Today’s gospel lesson is hard to read, and I promise even harder to preach on! It’s a story about a man wanting his far share in life, and wanting Jesus’ help to get that fair share. Yet it quickly turns into what can be seen as an attack on wealth and saving of any kind. That’s the path I have heard preachers take before. The other path I’ve heard is that Jesus wasn’t condemning the wealthy man for being wealthy, just for being greedy. Something about that doesn’t set right with me either.
Let’s look closer at this passage together.
Read Luke 12:13-21
There is a video going around on Facebook of a sculpture made from wire. When you look at it head on it looks like two Giraffes. But as the camera moves around it the image changes and becomes a bull elephant. The sculpture is not what it seems to be. It is more than meets the eye.
What if this parable isn’t really about what it seems to be about? What if instead of being a parable about money or even wealth, it’s about something else entirely?
Jesus in his previous teachings in Luke has spoken about love of neighbor, learning to pray for and participate in the kingdom of God. He has denounced the leaders of religion and faith because their rules and regulations have kept people from forming relationships with God. Jesus has just given the speech saying that even the hairs of your heard are all counted by God, don’t be afraid, you have value and worth. These are life giving lessons. And then someone interrupts.
A man says “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” More than likely this is a younger brother whose older brother is not sharing as is expected. In those days the eldest son received 2/3 of the estate and the younger brother received 1/3. Two things could be going on, one, he didn’t get is 1/3 or 2, he wants more than his 1/3.
Because of Jesus’ words on greed I tend to think it is the latter.
Jesus refuses to get involved in this family fight. It must have been far more complicated than that of Martha and Mary a couple of chapters ago. Instead Jesus tells a story.
This story of a rich man and his barn. Basically this is a guy who knows how to get stuff done. He has multiple fields and is wealthy. He has a good crop, actually a bumper crop, and he sets about deciding what to do with it. After weighing his options, he decides to tear down the old barns and build bigger barns to keep it all in savings.
I’ve got to tell you that doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. Food is a necessity, and when you have a good crop you do all you can to protect it. In fact, didn’t God tell Joseph to build barns and save 7 years’ worth of crops for the land of Egypt? That was a good thing, a very good thing. How is this any different?
Let’s look closely at the pronouns used in this text. I, My, I, My. Hmmm and perhaps we’ve just come to the real heart of the parable.
The man is speaking to himself, about himself and making choices for himself. What is missing in that chain of events? Others. Community. The rich man has become so isolated, so consumed with his own life and providing for that life, that he fails to see his neighbors.
That can be a hard thing for us to hear. We live in a society that is constantly trying to convince us to accumulate more stuff for ourselves. We have so many industries that exist to deal with all of the stuff we have and don’t want, can’t use, but don’t want someone else to have! No room in the house? Put it in the garage. No room there? But it in an outbuilding. No room there? Rent a storage unit. Out of room there? Get a bigger, climate controlled one!
This idea, this way of life, really this sin, keeps us from engaging with our neighbor in need. The rich man in this parable is cut off from those around him. He isn’t even interested in selling his excess goods. He wants them all for himself.
He feels good about himself and invites himself to rejoice. But God calls him a fool.
Yes, a fool. Rough word from the lips of God, but a truth that cannot be denied. This very day your life is demanded of you. And the things you’ve prepared, whose will they be?
He has no one to leave his goods to after he dies. All of his hard work will amount to nothing because he failed to share what he had. Because he failed to share in community with others.
I’ve been reading a book called “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker. In it there is a chapter called “On calling and Haitian Moms.” In it she says “It’s taken me 40 years to assess the difference between the gospel and the American evangelical version of the gospel. … There is a biblical benchmark I now use. We will refer to this criterion for every hard question, big idea, topic, assessment of our own obedience, every “should” or “should not” and “will” or “will not” we ascribe to God, every theological sound bite. Here it is: If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true. . . . Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere. This helps us untangle from the American God Narrative and sets God free to be God instead of the My-God-In-My-Pocket I carried for so long.”
The man in the parable today had probably bought into the cultural idea that being rich was a blessing from God. That’s a thought commonly espoused today. But if that’s true, then God is a narrow minded God who only blesses richest of the rich despite the millions of sincere believers worldwide that live in abject poverty.
He had bought into the idea of being independent so much that he didn’t even thank God for the harvest. When we become so internally focused we lose sight of not only those around us, but of God and God’s activity as well.
When we fall into this trap then we are susceptible to so many others. Not the least of which is the trap of fear. When we isolate ourselves from the other then we begin to fear the other. David Lose says “there is right now, a profound and increasingly shared message out and about that we should not and cannot trust each other, that the world is increasingly dangerous and we should therefore be increasingly afraid. That kind of fear will not lead us forward. . . The Bible warns us against fear because it’s really hard to take care of your neighbor and create community when you are afraid.”
Building community, living playing working worshiping together, is what discipleship is all about. Those things describe the church at its beginnings, the family of God, the body of Christ together. To be rich towards God is to be rich towards neighbor, other, widow, orphan, needy. These are the lessons Jesus gives us time and time again in the gospel of Luke. I think the farmer, wealthy in things, but starved in relationships never heard the truth found in the good news.
He sought to relax, eat drink and be merry, but never got to experience any of those things. When we live in community, when we live as disciples together we eat the bread and drink the cup together. We rejoice with each other, and we cry with each other. We can enjoy the love of God together because we are together.
The rich man was all about building, and we as Christians should be too. But instead of building barns to hold things for ourselves, we should be building relationships that bridge the gaps the world places between us.