My Dear Parishioners
Let us do some Bible Study this week and look at St. Luke’s Gospel , Chapter 12: 13-21.
In this passage which is unique to St. Luke, Jesus addresses the issue of what is of lasting value in life, as he warns that the acquisition of material possessions is ultimately empty and futile. It begins when a man addresses Jesus as “Teacher’ and asks him to arbitrate in a dispute over a family inheritance. Since inheritance issues fell under the jurisdiction of the Law or “Torah, it was common practice to ask a rabbi to act as a judge in such matters. Then, as now, disputes about inheritance could tie up a property for indefinite periods of time and cause long conflicts.
The man therefore asks Jesus to command his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. However, Jesus perceives that the man’s motivation is prompted by self-interest rather than being a genuine inquiry about the workings of inheritance laws (compare Deut. 21: 15-17). But refusing to be drawn into such a dispute, Jesus turns to address the gathered crowd about the destructive nature of covetousness. “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” To illustrate his point, Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool.
There was a rich man who possessed land that produced so abundantly that he was confronted with the problem of trying to find a place to store all of his crops. As the man pondered his options, he decided to tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones in order to store all his grain and goods. With his new and larger barns filled to capacity, his future was secure. Thus, with safely stored provisions that would last for many years, he could ‘relax, eat, drink, and be merry’. A similar sentiment is found in Isaiah 22:13, but adds the caveat, ‘for tomorrow we die.’
Thus in his private musings to ‘my soul’, the rich man thinks only of himself and his wealth. There is no suggestion here that the man is wicked or that he would profit or delight in the fate of those who have less than he does,. However, there is also no consideration here of others nor any recognition that the land itself is a gift from God. He feels confident that he is in control because of his many possessions.
But then God speaks, calling him “You fool!” (compare Ps 14:1), and warning him that this very night he will die. Now who will possess all that he has stored up? Jesus’ point is that nothing is wrong with careful planning and management of one’s resources, but possessions have no survival value for eternity. With this in mind, Jesus concludes the parable by saying, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God”.
My friends, to be “rich toward God” is to treasure God above all else - to live in faith and to share with others rather than to hoard what God has so freely given. Life itself is a gift from God, and material possessions cannot secure the future. So that when life is considered only, in terms of material possessions, we live in fear of losing them and we cut ourselves off from others and a richer relationship with God. Here Jesus’ teachings about the reign of God, call all earthly values even sound ones - into question. Of what value is our life without consideration of eternity?
Jesus expands on this theme when he says, “Do not worry about your life….” Instead, we are to strive for God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else will be given to us. So in terms of our theological reflection, it is important to note that Jesus gives us a warning in this passage to “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Lk 12:15).In the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is also the admonition that earthly wealth is transitory and offers no lasting meaning. The very word ‘vanity’ (meaning literally ‘vapor’ or ‘breath’) which occurs so often in the book serves to accentuate the fleeting nature of human life.
Thus the message from our Bible Study this morning must be, that it is folly to think that anything in this earthly life is truly ours. Here Christian stewardship kicks in - all that we have and own — it is about all our life in relation to God. In fact, the teaching of Jesus continually warns people against every sort of greed; and it is just this point which he illustrates with the Parable of the Rich Fool.
With all good wishes and prayers Archdeacon Emeritus