A Life of Real Abundance
Text: Luke 12:13-21
Proper 13, C
13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” You've all heard the words before. Cataloged them away in your neat accounting of who is right and who is wrong and why … but what would you say if I told you that this was not a younger son seeking more than his fair share of the family fortunes, but the eldest son seeking help in keeping what was rightfully his by Jewish law? That which had been stolen from him. Would it make you think of this man and his plea in a different light? “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Would it change your long-held convictions? Would it explain any better why this man might approach Jesus seeking the help of one so widely recognized as a just and righteous man?
If I were to tell you just that, then the whole parable of the wealthy fool which follows would have to be reconsidered, wouldn't it? But I can't tell you that, because scripture doesn't tell us what kind of son this was. Youngest, eldest, somewhere in the middle of a whole crowd of brothers. We don't know. But then again, it really doesn't matter one bit. The reason I proposed it is because the truth is, when it comes to what's fair and just and right, we are ready to judge the greed of the greedy oppressor … but are we ready to judge the greed of the greedy victim?
15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus' words here bear repeating, again and again. Day in and day out. For they strike at the very heart of so much that is wrong in this world, and in our lives. They lay bare the wretched foundations of human folly and failure. “One's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” As we read in the Large Catechism:
Many a person thinks he has God and everything he needs when he has money and property; in them he trusts and of them he boasts so stubbornly and securely that he cares for no one. 6Surely such a man also has a god — mammon, that is, money and possessions — on which he fixes his whole heart. It is the most common idol on earth. 7He who has money and property feels secure, happy, fearless, as if he were sitting in the midst of paradise. 8On the other hand, he who has nothing doubts and despairs as if he never heard of God. 9Very few there are who are cheerful, who do not fret and complain, if they do not have mammon. This desire for wealth clings and cleaves to our nature all the way to the grave.1
To illustrate this important warning to those who cling too tightly to the stuff of this world Jesus tells a parable: 16 “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And 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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
Did you hear it? My crops, my grain, my goods, my soul. The problem summed up in a single word. My, my, my. Today you might be more likely to hear “My money, my time, my job, my family … but the meaning is the same. Eating, drinking, and being merry are not sins in and of themselves, but they do show a misplaced priority and misplaced values. This man, like so many before and so many even today, is a fool precisely because he seeks to establish and measure the value of his life by what he has instead of by who he is, in relation to God and others.
He has been given so much, more than he can possibly use, but never once does he consider giving away the surplus. Instead he seeks to use the extra he has to gain and to keep even more. Little by little his possessions possess him. And in being so possessed he loses his connection to others and to God. Notice how he has no one but himself to talk to when making these decisions. Notice how his thoughts never once stray to the needs or desires anyone else. In seeking his due, what is rightfully or wrongfully his, little by little, he has shut out everyone else, even God.
In firmly setting his mind on the things that are only here on earth, He has foolishly forgotten this one most important truth. “One's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” All earthly goods, are but gifts of our gracious heavenly Father. It is God who made them, and us. Every last grain in the silo, every last penny in the bank. Your children, your spouse, your home, community, and church are not yours at all. They are His. Even our very own life itself belongs not to us but to Him. Every good and gracious blessing we enjoy in this life is a gift from Him, freely given – never earned … and we are fools to forget it. Bigger fools to misuse them or withhold them for selfish or lazy and greedy gain.
Has not God made it clear that all we have is from His gracious hand, and if it were too little He would give us as much more. We don't need to fret and worry to provide for ourselves. God has promised to take care of our every need. We would be fools to take that burden upon our frail and faulty shoulders, when God has already shown Himself bigger than the task. We would be fools to mistake His kindness and generosity as a license to be selfish. Yet 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
42 The trouble is that the world does not believe this at all, and does not recognize it as God’s Word. For the world sees that those who trust God and not mammon suffer grief and want and are opposed and attacked by the devil. They have neither money, prestige, nor honor, and can scarcely even keep alive; meanwhile, those who serve mammon have power, prestige, honor, wealth, and every comfort in the eyes of the world. Accordingly, we must grasp these words, even in the face of this apparent contradiction, and learn that they neither lie nor deceive but will yet prove to be true. 43Reflect on the past, search it out, and tell me, When men have devoted all their care and diligence to scraping together great wealth and money, what have they gained in the end? You will find that they have wasted their effort and toil or, if they have amassed great treasures, that these have turned to dust and vanished.2
Vanity of vanities, as the rich and powerful King Solomon once so wisely wrote. Earthly treasures bring only sorrow and vexation with no rest … and after a lifetime of toiling for them they are left behind to those like his son Rehoboam to foolishly waste and squander.
How different is the life of those who are rich toward God. Those who are rich IN God. We work hard to provide food and clothing for ourselves and our families, but we do not worry and fret that we have not stored up enough for our life in the future. We leave the future and what we need for it in the very gracious hands of God. Since we do all our planning for life trusting in God, we know that are more important riches than earthly possessions. We know by faith that the greatest treasures we will ever have are the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. These are the only riches which guarantee eternal life. These are not riches that we leave behind for someone else to claim when we die, nor can they be stolen from us while we live. They are riches God has freely given us in Christ, and which are ours forever. These are the gifts that make for a life of real abundance!
1 Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (The Large Catechism: 1, 5-9). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
2 Ibid, 42-43