The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Luke 12:13-21
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13), 01 August 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When a will is read, grace, mercy and peace are not the first things that come to mind. The whole realm of family inheritance is often full of problems, conflict, misunderstandings, and hard feelings. Once, I even saw grandchildren fighting over a grandparent’s 25-year-old ceiling fan that barely worked! In John Grisham’s novel, The Testament, heirs battle over an 11 Billion-dollar inheritance. Apparently, their father’s abundant gift of $5 million when they each were 21-years-old wasn’t enough. They all had wasted the money and were battling for a piece of the bigger pie. This kind of conflict, greed, and covetousness is nothing new. Consider the situation in St. Luke 12.
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?” 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.”
Rabbis were commonly asked to assist in family disputes over inheritance. Jesus was a rabbi, a great teacher. But think about it. This “someone” in the crowd already had a rabbi of his own. Did the rabbi find in his brother’s favor? Is he coming to Jesus to get a second opinion? Or, is he doing what millions of children do when either dad or mom says, “no,” i.e. go to the other parent, another authority. Mom, please! Dad’s being a meanie!
Jesus sees right through this “someone’s” impure motives. The traditional way of dividing the inheritance according to Deuteronomy 21:17 wasn’t good enough for this man. People are upset today if an estate isn’t divided evenly in shares. Even back then, this man didn’t like it that his eldest brother, the first-born son, got a double share.
“Watch out!” Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
All kinds of greed. All kinds of covetousness. All kinds of dishonest gain. Wow. Which commandments did this guy break? Well, coveting—so 9 & 10, 7—because he’s thinking about stealing, getting his brother’s inheritance dishonestly, 3—since he doesn’t recognize the spiritual authority of his own rabbi who likely decided against him, 4—for not honoring dad’s wishes, and #1—something else besides the Lord has become his god.
“Take care,” Jesus said, “and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” We are no less prone to this particular temptation. It is common to man in every age. Let’s not be too smug. Some of you are paid hourly. If you’re paid for a full 40-hour week, think back. Did you work the full 40 hours or just 38, or 35, or 30 or 25? That’s dishonest gain. How many times have office supplies disappeared from your desk at work and miraculously reappeared at home? What new toys does your neighbor have that you can’t wait to borrow—or have yourself? A boat? The new diesel truck? A snow machine? That new rifle?
It doesn’t take long for the reality to sink in that each of us have offended God and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. We’re in the same boat as today’s someone from the crowd. We’re part of his crowd as well. We’re eager to hear what Jesus has to say next.
16And he told them a parable, saying, “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.’
Storing up crops for the future isn’t a bad thing. The motive here behind it is, in the parable of the rich man. At the end of Genesis, Joseph instructs Pharaoh to prepare for the coming drought. That’s a good and godly purpose. This guy just doesn’t want to work anymore. No more planting or weeding or harvesting for him! He’s aiming for one of the ancient seven deadly sins: sloth.
Life insurance can misunderstood as well. That’s why it took so long for Lutherans to go for it. With the wrong motive, like this text’s rich farmer, life insurance could become the wrong object of our trust. Life insurance can’t prevent us from dying. It’s only a means of caring for our family after we pass away. The proper motivation can be found in 1 Timothy 5:8 where Paul tells Timothy about proper stewardship in the care of one’s family. If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. We may plan for the future like Joseph, caring for our families according to Paul’s divinely inspired words, and avoid the temptations to trust in things of this world, or even ourselves.
The rich man in the text is also self-centered. Did you notice that? In three verses, 17-19, he refers to himself directly, or by implication, an incredible number of times!
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.’
This certain rich man isn’t evil because he’s rich. Riches are not evil in and of themselves. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, not the money itself. He’s become cocky, selfish, hoarding all of his crops, trusting in them for his future security. “Who needs God? I’m set!” His grain has become his straw-god.
What a pathetic kind of god that is! You know well how fragile that kind of false god is. A freeze or cold weather could kill the crop. Disease can be a problem. Weather of all kinds could be devastating: drought, flood, lightning, hail. He’s weathered all the storms, fended off every crop disease. He’s ready to eat, drink, and be merry. He apparently didn’t know the ending of that common saying: “for tomorrow we die.”
20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
Repent! The one who dies with the most toys still dies. Toys don’t get a person into heaven. Only Jesus, only His grace is enough to make heaven.
People today often think they’ve outgrown the Bible. Oh, that’s just something we used to follow. We used to believe that, but we’ve evolved. That old book has nothing to teach us. Our human thought today is far superior. We’ve outgrown that mythical message. Have we?
Some of the richest and most influential men in the country in 1923 were the following:
1. Charles Schwab, president of the largest steel company
2. Edward Hopson, president of the largest gas company
3. Richard Whitney, president of the New York Stock Exchange
4. Arthur Cooger, the country’s greatest wheat speculator
5. Cosbee Rivermore, the great bear of Wall Street
Fifty-five years later, do you know what had become of these men? In the same order:
1. Died a pauper
2. Went insane
3. Was released from prison to die at home
5. Committed suicide
Jesus said: “….the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” and “ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Jesus also said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The “someone” at the beginning of our text wanted abundance. He was looking right at Him—Jesus. He wanted temporal security, but he really needed Eternal Life Insurance. I wonder if he left Jesus following this parable with true abundance in Christ, or still spiritually in want.
The next section of St. Luke 12 is a good preview for next Sunday. After the Law of today’s text, you need to hear the words of comfort from and about Jesus, your priceless treasure, the source of true heavenly abundance.
22[Jesus] said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
32“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, but in abundant Life in Jesus, your priceless treasure. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.