Luke 12: 13-21 from The Message
The crowds are gathering around Jesus, thousands we’re told, there for a glimpse, a word of encouragement, consolation, inspiration, healing - who knows why they all came. Each had their own personal motive. Jesus is talking first to his inner circle, but someone in the crowd interrupts him - taking him totally off message:
Someone out of the crowd said, “Teacher, order my brother to give me a fair share of the family inheritance.”
He replied, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you?”
This guy was asking the wrong person and was about to get an earful. He had unknowingly tapped into one of Jesus’ favorite topics. And Jesus, being Jesus, couldn’t resist the teaching moment that had just been presented to him:
Speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, (you’re possessions) even when you have a lot.”
It goes without saying this was probably not what the guy had wanted to hear - and what we don’t want to hear we tend to dismiss, or ignore - or we just get defensive. Jesus could probably see the guy bristle at his words, so he used another tactic to make his point. He tells the crowd a parable. We humans learn best by stories - not lectures on our bad behavior. So:
Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!”
Wait a minute: isn’t that why most of us work our tails off for years, so we can save up and then kick back, relax, travel, spoil the grandkids, enjoy the fruits of our labors? What’s wrong with that? This guy was obviously a good farmer and a shrewd businessman whose land produced abundantly. He had wealth pouring in faster than he could use it. We applaud people today who attain that kind of success. Work hard and reap the rewards. That’s the American way.
Our highways are lined with storage units to save those possessions that will no longer fit into our houses and garages. I see new Mc-mansions here in Newton going up at lightening speed. Super-sizing is the rule of the day, be it fast food or the roof over our heads. And it’s not just size, but quantity. How many millions of the latest i-phones are sold to people who already had a functioning cell phone.
Jesus denied that philosophy with his whole being, so his story continued:
“Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods - who gets it?’
‘That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”
or as another translation reads: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich towards God.”
Yikes! The farmer wasn’t counting on that message. He hadn’t written it into his business plan. He may have had a will and living trust but he wasn’t planning on it going into effect any time soon.
Remember that old proverb: “You can’t take it with you?” How true, but Jesus is saying more than that with this parable. He’s talking about what we possess and what we treasure in life, and the difference between the two.
First, let’s look at what we possess. Let’s share with those at our table some of the things we possess. Take a minute to do that. (job, house, bank account, car, wardrobe, appointment book, heart, etc.)
Now go around and list some things you treasure in life. (family, home, friends, freedom, health, time, love, etc.)
Notice the difference? Our riches are those treasures that our souls need in order to grow. They are not found stored in a barn or a storage unit, or a safe deposit box.
This lesson is not about the virtues or perils of being successful. Success is all well and good. It’s about how we set our priorities that define what kind of person we are, and what we do with our successes, be they small or large.
To help us think about that, I have one more question for you to explore in the next few minutes:
Like the rich man in the parable, “If you knew that you had 24 hours to live and the “where with all” to spend that time any way you desired, how would spend the next 24 hours?”
I’ve asked the table hosts to jot down a couple of ideas and later share them with all of us.
(time of sharing)
(would there be things you wished you had done or done differently?)
A friend and I were talking this past week about the difference between two of the wealthiest, most successful men in the US right now: Donald Trump and Bill Gates. While the Donald was fighting with the city of Chicago over the size of his name emblazoned on his latest Trump Tower, Gates and his wife Melinda were giving the commencement address to the graduating class of Stanford. Go on line and read it. It’s inspiring.
They got Jesus’ message here, and thank God they got it before they were on their death beds, and had time to act on it. What an example they set for each one of us. They got their priorities straight.
Sure, we don’t have their money, but no matter how much or little we have, we can make a difference in the world. Most of us don’t know when the end is coming. Each day is precious. Don’t waste it. Don’t live to regret what you did or didn’t do. Live life to the fullest.