Luke 12:13-21 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But Jesus said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?"
It is important to remember that Jesus does not speak to us so that we can use his words as a tool to manipulate others. Instead, he speaks to us so that we might be changed. That’s especially important for us to remember as we hear Jesus speak to us today about the place and role and importance that money has in our lives.
We are tempted to tell ourselves that this parable of the rich fool really doesn’t apply to me because-- after all—I’m not rich—or at least not as rich as some. We are tempted to look around the sanctuary to make sure that others are listening.
But in these temptations we are just like the man that Jesus rebuked who wanted to use the authority of the Lord’s words as a tool designed for others. But it’s not—it’s a word of divine authority--from God--for us—to change us.
Jesus speaks these words to each of us today because greed and coveting is not about how much money we have—it’s about what’s first in our hearts. The parable he tells is not really about what we possess—but about what possesses us. Jesus said:
"Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
Sin begins in the heart and it is for that reason that God forbids coveting that which belongs to another. Adultery begins in the heart with a lack of appreciation and thankfulness for the spouse that God has given to us and a sinful desire for another’s spouse. Stealing begins in the heart with a lack of satisfaction for the material gifts that God has given to us and a sinful desire for other’s things. Idolatry begins in the heart with a lack of satisfaction that we are creatures and a sinful desire to be our own god.
Covetousness is a spiritually deadly sin. James writes in chapter 4 of his epistle:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”
The man who came to Jesus out of the crowd that day thought he had an inheritance problem that a proper disposition of money could fix. But he didn’t. He had a spiritual problem that only Jesus could fix—and that spiritual fix began with recognizing that the problem was in his own soul. It begins in the same place for us—with recognizing and confessing the sins of our heart.
Jesus says, “…be on your guard against all covetousness.” We do have to be on guard because this sin can sneak up on us. There are economic disparities. There are differences in people’s gifts and abilities and resources.
And the shift in our hearts from thankfulness and satisfaction for what we do have-- to resentment and covetousness for what we don’t have-- can almost be imperceptible until we’re overcome by this sin.
That I why Jesus reminds us that: “Life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.” We know this don’t we—at least intellectually? We know that: no matter how rich we are or successful or powerful we are, life itself is much more than mere things. We know that all of the wealth in the world will not extend our life one breath or beat of the heart beyond that day that God has already ordained for us.
We know the truth of what Jesus says (that life does not consist in the abundance our possessions) but how hard it is for us to remember it and re-order lives accordingly! And so Jesus tells us this parable of the rich fool to illustrate in a memorable way his point about the place and importance of material things in our lives.
"The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'
One of the very first words our kids learn is the word: “mine”. Children have to be taught to share. It doesn’t come naturally to them anymore than it does to us because our sinful flesh is turned in on itself-- and we see the truth of human self-centeredness so clearly in the rich fool’s words. My crops—my barns—my grain—my goods—my soul.
Mine! But how wrong he was! As much as he thought all these things were his—Jesus tells us the truth about the real source of his wealth. Jesus says, “…the LAND of a rich man produced plentifully.”
The truth about farming is that no matter how smart you are and no matter how hard you work and no matter how much modern technology you bring to bear in your work as a farmer—a crop simply will not be produced if there is not adequate sunlight and rainfall and fertile soil and dry weather for harvest—gifts only the Creator can give.
Most farmers know this and have a humble faith in God’s provision in God’s provision. But there are exceptions—and this man was one of them--for he left God out of the picture. He said: What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'
I want you to notice what he didn’t ask. He didn’t ask: “Lord, what would you have me do?” “Seeing as how you have so abundantly and richly blessed me, how can I serve you and your people with these your blessings?” God never even enters into his thinking. It simply never occurs to him that the God who has blessed him-- might have something to say about the blessings he has bestowed. What about us?
When we get a raise or a promotion or a bonus, is our first thought: “Lord, what would you have me do?” Or is it, “What will I do with more money?” It is so easy for us to forget that, behind our hard work and behind our intellect and behind our wise investing is the God who gives it all. Much too often it is pride that fills our hearts over what we have done—just like that fool in the parable who said,
'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
Once again I want you to hear what he doesn’t say: “I will do this.” “I will return a tithe to the LORD as the Giver of it all.” “I will help those in need around me”. “I’ll do give an offering for the
.” Instead, he planned to build a monument to
himself that would show everyone around him how rich he was. temple of
But what his plan really revealed was the poverty of his soul and the emptiness of his life. He said to himself. Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' And of course he was right! He had every thing he needed for many years—EXCEPT—the many years. Only God can give those years.
We can deceive ourselves into believing that the material things we have are of our own making-- but that illusion will come to an abrupt end when we come face to face with the real Giver of those gifts. We can delude ourselves into believing that we are the captains of our souls and the masters of our destiny-- right up until we face God.
The rich fool and the people around him thought he was the brightest, most successful, and wisest man they knew. But God thought differently.
God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
The fool went to sleep that night just as he had every other night of his life believing he had the world by the tail—but that night was not like every other night—it was his last night. He had not-- and would not—entrust his soul into the hands of his Creator and Redeemer and so his soul was taken from him in eternal death in hell.
With that most precious possession lost—all that remained of his life—all the things he called his own—all he valued above God-- was be given to others-- who would fuss and fight over them just like the man at the beginning of our lesson. Such is the end of all those who lay up treasures for themselves and are not rich toward God.
But thanks be to God, that moment has not yet come for us! Today is a God-given opportunity to re-evaluate our lives and turn in repentance from greed and covetousness—a day to topple the idol “mammon” off the throne in our hearts and receive in faith what truly counts as treasure in God’s sight—and that is Jesus.
The Good News for us today is that our Lord Jesus Christ did not fail to keep “first things first” as we so often do. He came to do the will of his Father—and he did it—perfectly. He came, not to be served- but to serve. And he did not count his own life too high a price to pay to secure the salvation of our souls and to free us by his resurrection from the fatal bondage to the things of this world.
Life does not consist in the abundance of our possession—but it consists—from beginning to end-- in Christ-- who is our life.
All of the riches of Christ are set before us today—his Word that calls us to repentance and faith—his body and blood which assure us that his death and resurrection are for us individually and personally—his abiding presence that makes our lives-- no matter how humble-- very rich indeed.
When we lay our heads down tonight—even if it is our last night—we can commend our souls into the hands of our merciful, forgiving Father and sleep at ease-- knowing that in in Jesus we are rich beyond measure. Amen.