Today's gospel begins with “someone in the crowd” asking Jesus to arbitrate a disagreement between brothers. The younger brother seems to want his older brother to distribute the shares of their inheritance rather than keeping the land and farm together. It echoes the many brotherly disagreements in the scriptures; Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers and the prodigal son and his brother... another instance of an inheritance causing division. And most of us have family stories about inheritances causing troubles in our families. There always seems to be that one family member more concerned with what they will get than with who they have lost.
But Jesus declines the request, he will not be the arbitrator in this case. But he does use the interruption to share a parable about the dangers of being overly concerned with wealth.
So what is the issue for Jesus? We get clues to the problem in how he relates the farmer's thinking. Note the pronouns he uses: “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...” It is all about him. There is no consideration of family or friends, of the community, of those in need; and no sense of gratitude. There is no consideration of what God would have him to do. Wouldn't you like to have him say something like this, “God has richly blessed me, how can I best use these gifts to provide for the needs of family, community, my old age; and how can these gifts be a blessing shared with others?” It seems the problem Jesus had with this rich farmer is that he lived only for himself and that his possessions were his only security.
This parable is not about financial planning. It is a good thing to plan and save for our golden years. It is a good thing to be financially responsible. But it is not a good thing if our finances are our number one priority in our lives. The rich man forgot about sharing his gifts with his workers and with those in need. He forgot to give thanks to God that he had to build more barns for his riches. He forgot-- or never learned-- that there is more to life than our possessions.
As you probably know, in our lectionary readings we cover most of the scriptures. But the next few paragraphs Luke wrote are not in our regular lectionary schedule-although just a couple verses are part of next week's reading. I want to share some of these because these are things the rich farmer needed to hear. These are things we need to be reminded of in our own lives:
Jesus said to his disciples: “do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds. Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink... the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well... Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not become old, a treasure in the heavens that will not fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Priorities! That's what Jesus is teaching. Where our treasure is, that is where our hearts will be. And our treasure is so much more than the goods we accumulate. Set your heart on the things of God. If we can do that, the rest will fall in line. The rich fool never got his priorities straight. And he never got his relationship with God right. God calls him a fool for making all these great plans for the future... and not realizing how fleeting our lives are. “This very night your life is being demanded of you.” That was not in that farmer's plan.
Here's a real life example of someone who failed to understand that wealth is not the source of happiness. Frank Sinatra is a name familiar to most of us, a popular singer back in the day. His daughter Tina told the story of his last years on the stage. She says, “His health was in tatters and his life mired in financial wrangles, but my father refused to stop giving concerts.” And as he pushed 80, his performances were becoming more and more uneven. He needed a Teleprompter for most songs. “I couldn't bear to see Dad struggle. I remembered all the time he repeated the old boxing maxim 'You gotta get out before you hit the mat.' He wanted to retire at the top of his game..but... he lost track of when to quit. After... one of these fiascoes, I told him, 'Pop, you can stop now; you don't have to stay on the road.' With a stricken expression he replied, “No, I've got to earn more money. I've got to make sure everyone is taken care of.'”
After his death, the were constant family fights over his fortune.1
Most of us here are in our golden years. And we are generally well aware of our mortality. But no matter our age, we need to get our priorities right. Money is important, but it isn't the most important thing in life. No amount of wealth can make us right with God. In fact, it is often the desire for riches that gets in the way of our relationship with God. Jesus tells his followers in verse 15, “Be on guard against all kinds of greed.” And Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly:” and he included greed in that list. And Paul gave this advice in today's reading, advice which deals with our priorities, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” That was the root of the rich man's problems, his mind was set on the things of earth with no time to think of the things of heaven. As followers of Christ, our priorities are determined by the priorities Jesus shared. And as we point out often, Jesus clearly stated two priorities his followers should have: Love God and love your neighbor. And setting our minds on things above does not mean we don't enjoy this gift of life God has given us. We know from the gospels that Jesus knew how to enjoy life; much of his teaching took place at a meal with friends, he spent time at parties, he turned the water into wine. But in all that, there was never a question of where his priorities were.
So that's our lesson for today, priorities. Where does Christ rank on the list of priorities in your life? Is this relationship apparent by the way we spend our money; the way we talk, the places we go, the things we support? And it is not that we all agree on these things all time; it is that we seek the wisdom of God. This message is not so much about wealth as it is about being aware of concerns beyond our own. It is about how we cooperate with our neighbors. And it is about trusting, not in our own goodness or wealth but in God as our ultimate savior, guide, friend and Lord. For we acknowledge that our possessions, our talents, our faith are gifts from God and how we manage them is our stewardship of God's gifts. May we be wise in how we live out our faith and how we manage our affairs. Amen.
Hymn: We Give Thee But Thine Own 507 HLC
1“Frank Sinatra's Insecurity” from More Perfect Illustrations pg 184