Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reflections on the Text – Luke 12:13-21

Read the text here: Luke 12:13-21

Rich Towards God
“Money is the root of all evil!”  That is a saying we have all heard over and over again but yet how many of us find ourselves constantly in a state of anxiety and stress over money.  We are always looking for ways to increase our wealth and our possessions.  A few years ago when the housing crisis began and many folks began to default on their mortgages it became apparent that in many of these cases folks had purchased homes that were simply too big and too expensive for them, and they simply could not afford them once the supports fell away.
Our Gospel today is all about money and the accumulation of wealth.  First, it is important to state that the problem, as Luke presents it, it not with money, per se.  It is not the money or the wealth or the possessions themselves that are the root of “all evil” for Luke.  It is, rather, our attitude towards them.  In fact, Luke has a unique view of wealth.  For Luke, wealth is to be seen as a gift from God to be used for the benefit for others in need and in the community.  It becomes a problem when we begin to focus on it to the point where our lives begin to be defined by our possessions and wealth and where we begin to turn inward, shutting out others – including God.
Let’s look at our text a little more closely.  After a series of parables two brothers who are having a dispute over their father’s inheritance interrupt Jesus: “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!”  Here we see that wealth and possessions have divided yet another family and caused conflict and bitterness.  But Jesus declines to arbitrate this dispute.  Instead he launches into one of his best known and most often ignored parable – “The Parable of the Rich Fool.”  The story is of a very successful and wealthy man who is not just a farmer.  This man owns multiple farms and land and this has made him wealthy.  But he also seems to do everything right, from a business standpoint – he has been successful beyond even his own expectations; he sees a need to provide for the future so he plans to replace his small and inadequate storage facilities and finally he looks forward to enjoying the fruits of his success.  Now what is wrong with all of that?  It seems like this businessman is someone to emulate, someone we should admire – but Jesus condemns him harshly in this parable, calling him a fool.  Why?
Any number of commentators have attempted to find a dark cloud around this character – he was rich because he was taking advantage of his tenant farmers; he was rich because he was manipulating the price of grain and so on.  The problem is, the text does not support any of that.  So as much as we want to find some clear reason for Jesus’ negative attitude towards this man, it is not so apparent.  In fact, like most of Jesus’ parables this is the twist, an element of shock.  Those who listen to this parable are probably thinking either – I am like this man or I want to be like this man!  And yes he is a fool and he is condemned.  So let’s look closer at the story to see if we can find some justification for the conclusion Jesus presents. 
Look at the man’s speech: And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 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. 19And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  The bold face text that I have added should be a hint: I – I –  my – I – my… everything is about me, myself and I for this man.  Not only that but by the end of this soliloquy he has turned into himself so much that he has begun to dialog with his own soul!  His interest and his concern for and focus upon acquiring wealth and success and status has turned him so far inwards that he is only able to dialog with himself.  He has lost any connection with others – his family, friends, neighbors, workers, the broader community  and even God!  And not only that but he has also lost connection with his own mortality as well – thus beginning to see himself as invincible.  He doesn’t need God for anything.  This is why this man is a fool – he has lost connection with God and his neighbor.  He is rich in possessions but poor in spirit.
So what does it mean to be rich toward God.  Jesus doesn’t say in the context of this parable but all we need to do is to go back and review the lessons and parables that lead into this passage to get an answer to this important question: “Being rich toward God entails using one’s resources for the benefit of one’s neighbor in need, as the Samaritan did (10:25-37). Being rich toward God includes intentionally listening to Jesus’ words, as Mary did (10:38-42).  Being rich toward God consists of prayerfully trusting that God will provide for the needs of life (11:1-13, 12:22-31).  Being rich toward God involves selling possessions and giving alms as a means of establishing a lasting treasure in heaven (12:32-34).”
“The man in the parable and people who emulate his pattern of life are fools for leading isolated, self-absorbed lives, because everything they have given themselves ends in death.  Life is not had by the possessions one has.  Life and possessions are a gift of God to be used to advance God’s agenda of care and compassion, precisely for those who lack resources to provide for themselves.”
So what about you?  Are you rich toward God or are you in danger of being smothered by your money, concern about money and possessions?  What can you do to begin to turn towards God and begin to accumulate treasure in heaven?

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