The 11th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 13C (8/4/2013)
Lessons:Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 Psalm 49:1-12 (3) Colossians 3:1-11 St. Luke 12:13-21
Semicontinuous Series: Hosea 11:1-11 Psalm 107:1-9, 43 (8) Colossians 3:1-11 St. Luke 12:13-21
Prayer of the Day: Benevolent God, you are the source, the guide, and the goal of our lives. Teach us to love what is worth loving, to reject what is offensive to you, and to treasure what is precious in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
St. Luke 12:13-21. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Rich Toward God
He is only described by St. Luke as “someone in the crowd.” We get him, though, don’t we? “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Luke doesn’t give us many details, but it doesn’t matter. We’ve heard the stories. We know what this is all about. The patriarch and matriarch are gone, and the siblings are left to divide the inheritance. Inevitably, one of them gets the upper hand, and is able to command more than is deserved — at least in the eyes of the one who received less (or, perhaps, who received none at all?). It isn’t right. It is offensive. The less fortunate heir cries out to the visiting Rabbi. As the crowds gather by the thousands, pressing in as close as possible, they watch to see how he will resolve this family dispute.
That’s what first century Rabbis do. They don’t just preside at worship. They don’t just teach Bible studies. They don’t just administer synagogue activities. They offer advice. They counsel young couples. They regulate commerce (at least in the synagogue…). They settle disputes. They are the voice of God in every area of life. A family finds itself at war over how to divide the inheritance? Call the Rabbi. He’ll figure it out!
Jesus doesn’t take the bait, though. They may think of him as Rabbi, but he hasn’t come to the world to settle domestic disputes. Instead, he takes this as an opportunity to reflect on the role that wealth plays in the life of a believer. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” This isn’t exactly what the crowd expects to hear. Nor do they expect a parable about a rich man who works very hard and stores up for himself a nest egg that will provide him with many years of financial security, only to discover that it is of no use because he will die that night. They are looking for wise advice about how to divide up the assets of their friend and neighbor who recently died. What they get, instead, is the challenge to think about what it means that so many of them store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God.
Indeed, life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. It consists in being rich toward God. This message is as counter-cultural today as it was in the first century. We are surrounded by friends and neighbors who invest the vast majority of their time and energy in amassing riches — filling up larger barns in hopes of securing their family’s future. Perhaps some of us have made the same commitment.
Jesus offers a different way. When we are rich toward God, we have security for the future. When we trust in God’s promise, we live in peace. When we stake our lives on God’s providence, we find contentment. When our “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” we are grounded in a joy that is eternal.
This is what Jesus wants the young heir to learn. This is what he wishes for us as well. Not the abundance of possessions, but being rich toward God. Let us pursue that together.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- Why did the son of the rich man think Jesus could help him?
- What were the expectations of the crowd?
- How did the response of Jesus come as a surprise to them?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- When have I been more focused in financial security than faithfulness?
- What would it look like for me to be “rich toward God?”
- What might I do to deepen my relationship with God (and reduce my dependance on wealth)?