Our lectionary editors chose to skip over the challenges to Jesus’ claim of authority. For the past three weeks, Luke has been teaching us about discipleship. He has been answering the question “What does the life of a disciple look like?” How is a right relationship with the Lord reflected in the life of the disciple? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we learn that discipleship has an outward, neighborly focus. In the teaching of Mary and Martha, we learn that there are lots of calls on one’s life, but that the better choice is always to sit at His feet and learn. And, then, perhaps most importantly, we learn that we are to have an intimate relationship with our Father in heaven. Had we continued on in the readings, we would have read about the Pharisees and other societal elites questioning the authority of this backwoods man. In effect, they ask Jesus who He is and what makes Him think He can teach what He teaches. He has not gone to the right schools; He has not grown up in the right towns; and He does not have the right connections. Jesus, to be sure, provokes the growing confrontation. Jesus names the hypocrisy of each of the groups. In effect, He refuses to play nice or play by their rules. He is here for a purpose, and His time is limited.
It is with that background that we find ourselves in this week’s passage. A man in the crowd calls out to the teacher and asks Him to instruct his brother to divide the family inheritance. While it was not uncommon for people to appeal to rabbis to mediate disputes, the man in question is simply asking Jesus to side with him. Perhaps it is for that reason that Jesus asks “Man, who appointed me as judge or arbiter between you?” Never to waste a moment to teach, though, Jesus goes on to warn those within the sound of His voice against greed. “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Talk about a counter-cultural proclamation! Even in the first century Ancient Near East, people were struggling to accumulate stuff. We have to wonder if they had on their camels or oxen those bumper stickers with the phrase “He/She who dies with the most toys wins!” Like us, members of Jesus audience were concerned with signs of wealth. Everybody wanted more and more possessions. The more possessions one has, the more secure one feels. Of course, greed is a difficult master. It is never satisfied. The more one has, in service of greed, the more one needs. We see this play out not just with respect to possessions and money, but other areas as well. Ever known a politician who willingly shuns the spotlight or power? How many people do we know struggle to get a house, a car, and other accoutrements of success only to feel the need to restart the process of acquisition yet again and again? Sometimes, as my family can attest, people find their worth and security in just “stuff.” I must confess we watch the show Hoarders with the same way we might watch an oncoming accident. It is so hard to watch people destroy their lives and their relationships as they accumulate and accumulate, and yet it is incredibly hard to look away.
But notice that the problem in this teaching by Jesus is not wealth. One can be wealthy and still be faithful to God. Jesus does not criticize the man for ripping off laborers or for stealing land. The harvest was clearly abundant, and it would not fit in his existing barns. The problem in this teaching is the attitude toward wealth. For the man in question, wealth has become his god. He trusts in his ability to provide for himself rather than trusting in God. Notice all the references to “I’ and “my” in the story. Even the judgement in the story, “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry,’” demonstrates to us he thinks he is the judge. The the hammer hits!
“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?’” Last week, as we were looking at the Lord’s Prayer, we were reminded that we are to have an eternal perspective. This man has lost that eternal perspective and focused on the here and now. God rightly judges him a fool, a person in the OT in particular who rejects God and His instruction and chooses, instead, to act in self-destructive ways. When we place anything in our lives before God, we are acting as a fool. When we place anything in our lives before God, we are choosing to follow an idol that cannot speak, cannot hear, and cannot act in lieu of following the One who would have us call Him Father. Forgetting God has horrible consequences, eternal consequences. The man in question trusted wealth and stands condemned. Weekly, we see 100-140 individuals who have chosen or are choosing to dull their pain through alcohol. Many of those whom we encounter in human trafficking are seeking wealth, power through blackmail, or to dull their pain through sex. Many of us know people in our lives, perhaps some of us present, who have to have the latest gadget or the fanciest car or the newest whatever, and the financial hardships they create for themselves in trusting in those items rather than God. Heck, how many people in our country bought houses too big for their budgets in the leadup to the Great Recession? Part of the economic malaise that we are experiencing is the fact that so many people are underwater or have been been foreclosed upon. The attitude that Jesus condemns is rampant in our society. So, what’s the solution? Christ.
For those of us sitting here today who have felt the tug of the Holy Spirit, repent and ask God for the grace to re-prioritize your life. Ask God for the grace to help you keep your focus on Him, in whatever area of your life about which you are troubled. Parents, our kids are gifts of God. Are you raising your children to know and to love God? Or have you fallen into the Enemy’s subtle trap to raise your children apart from the Church so that, when they grow up, they can make their own choice? I have news for you. When they grow up, they will make a choice. How can you expect them not to choose foolishly if they do not know the saving grace of our Lord? How can you expect them to choose wisely, if you have modeled a behavior that follows idols instead of our Lord? Americans, we have lots of areas in which we are called to be stewards. Even the poorest among us in among the world’s wealthiest. It is hard to believe that someone Amanda and Robbie met last week would trade you straight up for your life, is it not? And yet they met many who would beg for your life. Yesterday, we had the privilege and opportunity of hosting our Ward meeting. How many showed up to advocate for those in our community who are on the margins. You know, the people working 2-3 jobs, 80 hours a week, to make ends meet--how many of us showed up to give their concerns a voice? How many showed up to lend God’s voice and guidance to our political discussions? Those with greater resources, how are you glorifying God and thanking Him for your abundant blessings? Those of you blessed with great health, how are you using your physical condition to glorify God and to thank Him for your strength and vitality? Those of you with a platform, teachers and politicians and social workers and other jobs, how are you performing your job to His honor and glory. I could go on and on because this list really needs to be exhaustive. There is nowhere in our life over which God does not claim sovereignty. He even knows, knows whether our labors are done with right intention. We might be able to fool a neighbor or friend, but we can never fool God, who knows all our hearts. That’s why Jesus warns His audience and us to be on our guard. Every day we are ambushed with alternative gods; only the attentive will remain wise. Only the watchful will avoid the attitude of the man in our parable.
What if, sitting here this morning, you find yourself convicted that you are a fool? What if, sitting here this morning, you have taken spiritual stock of your relationship with God and find you have been chasing idols, what hope is there? The great news, the Gospel news, is that our Lord is merciful. All He demands from us is repentance. All He wants you and me to do is to acknowledge our sins and to return our focus to Him. Better still, there is no limit to the number of times we can repent. Until our lives are demanded of us, we can always repent and focus our lives on Him. So long as we draw breath, it is never too late to experience His mercy and His grace. It is, put simply, never too late to be numbered among the wise, so long as we live. And, because He lives, we will, too, for all eternity, so long as we really put our trust in and keep our focus on Him.