Luke 12:13-21 (CEB) | Rev. Will Conner
13 Someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus said to him, “Man, who appointed me as judge or referee between you and your brother?”
15 Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. 17 He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! 18 Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. 19 I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.”
When we read stories from the life of Jesus, I think we often get the impression, or at least I get the impression that he is usually talking to a small group of people. I have this image that he is talking with a small group of people, perhaps the size of Sunday School class. In this group you have different kinds of people—you have people that are really interested in what Jesus has to say, then you have the people that are trying to trip Jesus up and get him to say something out of context or something that will be taken the wrong way. Something that will appear as a headline on Fox News or MSNBC. Then, to the side, you have his disciples, his closest followers, and they are waiting for the appropriate time to save Jesus from this group and to get him to move on.
When I read these stories of Jesus that we have been looking at over the past few weeks, this is the image I always seem to have stuck in my mind. Perhaps this image comes from my childhood and just what I have assumed things would look like.
In our story today, though, the crowd is much larger than any Sunday School class. At the beginning of chapter 12, just before the story we read a few moments ago, we read that the crowd gathered by the thousands. Not hundreds, not a thousand, but by the thousands. So much so that people trampled on one another. This is quite a crowd gathered around Jesus. In the crowd you have people that are excited about what Jesus has to say; you have people who are unsure about what Jesus is teaching; you have Jesus’ closest friends there; and you also have those that are trying to stir up trouble and get Jesus discredited.
In the midst of this crowd, you can imagine the volume level. People are jostling around talking, trying to figure out what’s going on, and in the midst of this someone calls out: “Teacher! Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
This is not a bashful petition. This man clearly thinks that he is been wronged by his brother over a family inheritance. This man clearly thinks that his brother is greedy. He clearly wants to pull Jesus into satisfying his own greed or his own sense of injustice at his economic situation in his family.
Here you have, Jesus, a person that is teaching a new way of life that is healing people of diseases that entrap them. And this man calls out to Jesus to help him make a deal. Jesus a man with no home; Jesus a man with no real family; Jesus a man who lives the life of the homeless—is asked to participate in the greed of family. The easy thing would have been for Jesus just to ignore him, or quickly say divide the inheritance, after all the crowd is massive and there are many vying for Jesus’ attention. But he doesn’t do this.
In a characteristically Jesus fashion, he doesn’t even answer the man’s plea. Instead he calls the man out and says to the whole crowd – “guard yourself again all kinds of greed.” Jesus calls it like it is, and identifies the man’s greed. Then he tells a story about the greed of a rich man. A rich man who hoarded all of his possession. Who build bigger storage units to hold all his goods. A man who didn’t share a penny with anyone else. A man who was only concerned with himself. The thought of what he might be able to do for those in need never crossed his mind. All he was consumed with was me, me, me.
In the midst of this, he too forgets about God. He has everything he needs. What need does he have of God? So instead of praising God for this bountiful blessing, so instead of asking God how he can be faithful with his wealth, this man talks to himself. This rich man addresses his own soul, and says soul—we’ve got some good and comfortable days ahead. Let’s just enjoy our wealth.
And because of the man’s greed, he died alone—he died isolated from family, from potential friends, from people who could share good things about him at his funeral, he died isolated from God. In his death he has no more control over wealth. In his death his wealth is meaningless, except as testimony of how selfish and greedy and alone he was.
We know good and well that greed was not just a problem in first century Palestine. Greed was not just a problem when Jesus walked the earth. Greed is alive and well today.
Surely Bernie Madoff began his career as an investor excited about the prospect of making money, and excited about the prospect of helping his clients make money. Madoff began investing at fairly small level, perhaps legal, at least fairly legal. It didn’t take long, though for greed to take over. For the promise of more and more and more to cloud ethics. We know now that the greed of Madoff led to the financial ruin of many people.
In the 1987 movie “Wall Street” the main character Gordon Gekko gives a rousing speech where he claims that “Greed is good. Greed is right. Greed works.” At the end of the movie, we learn that if greed is good, greed still leads to isolation; greed still leads to loneliness.
The pop culture images of greed, and the greed we read of in the news is always big and extravagant. But greed doesn’t have to be so big, so epic. Most of us can’t comprehend the impacts of greed when it comes to the likes of Bernie Madoff or characters in movies like Gordon Gekko. I don’t know what 100s of millions of dollars is like. I don’t know what it feels like to own homes around the world and to fly in private jets. So that world of extravagance, seems so foreign. But greed doesn’t really have to be so big.
In reality, Greed lies waiting in every paycheck. Greed lies waiting in every encounter with another human being. Greed lies waiting, ready to attack and devour the soul. Greed is not sharing. Greed is thinking that everything you have is yours and solely yours.
Greed is looking at what your neighbor has and wanting if for yourself. Greed is keeping everything you have and not sharing with your neighbor.
Really me talking about greed kind of puts me in an awkward position. I’ve been your pastor for one month. I am barely beginning know you; to know who you are; to know what you think; to know what you value. So, it’s kind of awkward to be talking about greed and money at this point in our relationship. It’s kind of like talking about how many kids you want on first date. It’s kind of like coming on too strong when your friend sets you up on a blind date. If I do too much – it might sound like I’m preaching instead just telling you about Jesus’ message. If I go further than that, it might go beyond preaching and getting into meddling. –nobody likes that.
But greed is a disease. And greed is not just about money. As one scholar said, “Greed is a problem because its focus on the self keeps people from being ‘rich toward God’ and rich toward others.” And this focus solely on one’s self is dangerous.
Greed really keeps us from following Jesus with our whole lives. If you want to learn how to not be a follower of Jesus, do what this man in the story does. Collect as much as you can. Keep it all for yourself. You will likely gain a lot of stuff. But the sickness of greed will take over your soul, and you will fade and your worry will grow. Your worry will grow because you will now try to protect what is yours and keep what is yours. So you will close yourself off from others that you think want something from you. You will be eaten up with worry. And one day you will die alone with no one to share life with and with no hope.
Our story doesn’t have to end here, though. Jesus gives us the warning of this greedy man and says that for those “who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God” will have the same fate. Then Jesus shares the good news--No one is predestined to greed. Society tries to teach us that Greed is good and greed is right, but no one’s path is predestined down that lonely road.
We know this because just after this story, Jesus shares something that changes the game when it comes to greed. If greed leads us to worry and anxiety, Jesus changes the game completely in what he says next, because he says it doesn’t have to be.
In Luke 12:22-23 Jesus says: “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing.”
But the problem is, you can’t not worry if you are consumed with greed. You can’t not worry if you are consumed the rat race of life today. So then Jesus gives us the key, he says in verse 31, that instead of greed and of hyper planning and worrying about ourselves, “desire God’s kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus presents a different understanding of life than that of the greedy man. Jesus presents an understanding of life that is not valued on one possessions or wealth. The truth is, if we look for fulfillment or purpose in work or money or other things, we are always going to be left empty.
But this way of life that Jesus offers gives us a way to be full. This way of life that Jesus offers gives us a way out of worry, gives us a way to live a full life. By living this alternate way, we can be free from the worry of daily living, because with Jesus, “there is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing.”
Instead of worry, instead of greed, Jesus says, “desire God’s kingdom.” What does this mean to desire God’s kingdom? If that is the key to contentment, if that is the key to escaping greed, if that is the key less worry, how do we do it? Quite simply, I think it is reverse of what the greedy man does in the story that Jesus tells.
In the story that Jesus tells, we have a man who gets quite rich very quickly. And he realizes that he doesn’t have enough assets to hold all of his wealth. He doesn’t have enough barns to hold his abundant harvest. Faced with this problem he acquires more assets to hold his increasing wealth. He needs to hide it from prying eyes others. And he laughs to himself and realizes that he doesn’t have to work another day in his life. Now he can have a relaxing and a good life—but the irony is, he suddenly dies lonely and his wealth did no good.
In this story the man had two loves—the love of money and the love of himself.
The reverse of this story, the way that Jesus tells us to live also has two loves, but these two loves are love of God and the of others. Desiring God’s kingdom means living as one who loves God and loves others. This story might have looked a little different if it was marked by loving God and loving others.
We might hear of a man who suddenly got rich, and the first thing he did was thank God. And then he began manage his money in a way that allowed him bless those who worked for him and to bless that did not originally share in this great influx of wealth. Maybe he still dies prematurely, but this is a man who won’t die alone – because, by desiring God’s kingdom he shares this blessing with God and with other people.
Please know that this teaching doesn’t mean that we aren’t supposed to save for the future. It’s important to save for the future, to plan for retirement, to plan for a rainy day. It is important for us to properly manage the resources that we have been given, but planning for the future must always be balanced with the love of God and love of others. It is always important for us to take care of our neighbors.
The greedy man lived for himself, but it is important for us to live beyond ourselves. To live for others. And right now, we have many great opportunities to do this. There are kids that are doing to need school supplies, perhaps you could buy an extra set and take it to the school. Give a kid a chance is August 6th and this is an opportunity for our us to bless the people of our community that need help. I know that the United Methodists have been historically the ones changing oil while kids get their school supplies. I hope to see you at 7:30 on August 6th at the Fair Grounds to do this again, as we live beyond ourselves, as we love God and love others.
I think that when we do this, when we live beyond ourselves, we begin to see what Jesus meant when he told us not to worry. When love replaces greed, there is no room for worry. So love, and give that love to others.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.