Greed or God? Reflection on Luke 12:13-21

8 Aug 2019 by Karyl Davison in: News

If you are completely honest, do you wonder why this farmer is called a fool?   Many of us might actually argue that he is being wise and responsible with his business. 

His farming enterprise is thriving, but any wise farmer knows that they need to put aside their profits from one season to tide them over in lean years – years shaped by flood, drought, disease and plagues. 

This farmer’s land has produced so abundantly that he does not have enough storage space in his barns. So he plans to pull down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his grain and goods. Then he will have ample savings set aside for the future and will be all set to enjoy his golden years.

Isn’t this what we are encouraged to strive for? Isn’t it wise and responsible to save for the future? He has worked hard and saved wisely. Now he can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labor, right?

Not exactly.  This story also includes a reckoning with God in which God says to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20)

The rich farmer is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he appears to live only for himself, and because he believes that he can secure his life with his abundant possessions.

When the rich man talks in this parable, he talks only to himself, and the only person he refers to is himself: “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” “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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (Luke 12:17-19).

The rich man’s land has produced abundantly, yet he expresses no sense of gratitude to God for his good fortune, nor does he express any sense of gratitude to the workers who have helped him plant and harvest this bumper crop.

He has more grain and goods in storage than he could ever hope to use, yet seems to have no thought of sharing it with others, and no thought of what God might require of him. He is utterly blind to those around him.  It’s all about him!

But rich man learns what we all know to be true, quite simply, you can’t take it with you.

But we also know that riches do not make us happy.  Interestingly researchers have found that the thing that does make us happy is giving to others.  And not just giving money but giving when there is a genuine sense of connection with the person or people we give to – because this allows us to see the positive benefits our giving brings.  We are able to envision how our money or our time makes a positive difference.

So, money alone does not make you happy - no matter how much we possess, we are always aware of things we don’t have. We are bombarded by marketing wizards whose job it is to convince us of all the products we need to complete our lives.   So find tuned is marketing today, that it seems that we only need to think about a purchase before an opportunity to buy it pops up on our Facebook feed.   And so we never quite feel that we have enough, regardless of what it costs the earth, and what it costs for those who make it.

Like the rich farmer, we are tempted to think that having large amounts of money and possessions stored up will make us secure, or make us happy. Sooner or later, however, we learn that no amount of wealth or property or possessions can secure our lives or give us life in abundance.  

No amount of wealth can protect us from a genetically inherited disease, for instance, or from a tragic accident. No amount of wealth can keep our relationships healthy and our families from falling apart. In fact, wealth and property can easily drive a wedge between family members, as in the case of the brothers fighting over their inheritance at the beginning of this text.

Most importantly, no amount of wealth can make us right with God.  nor can it make us good disciples of Jesus.

Jesus in Luke’s Gospel makes more references to the poor than in the other canonical Gospels. Alongside this, he also makes more references to people drawn from the upper classes of his society. Time and time again, Jesus teaches that those who have more have a responsibility to share their resources with those who have much less.

We in the Western world are amongst the most wealthy, and most powerful, people on the planet today. The figures in the Gospel of Luke that we might most easily identify with are those rich men, governors, household owners, wealthy farmers, and educated men and women. And, like them, we would do well to follow the example of making our wealth available to the poor and 'needy', in obedience to the instructions of Jesus!

It’s tempting to water this down, make this point more gently, let us all off the hook.  But I suspect that Jesus would not.  When Jesus says ‘when you pray say ‘your kingdom comes’ he’s talking about a time when all will share the riches of the creation.  that’s good news for the poor, but it’s not good news for those of us who have more than enough, if what we value is our wealth.  To state the obvious, if everyone is to have enough, those who have more than enough will lose some of what they have.

There is an apocryphal story about a minister who said - “I have heard many different regrets expressed by people nearing the end of life, but there is one regret I have never heard expressed. I have never heard anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away. I wish I had kept more for myself.’” Death has a way of clarifying what really matters.

As the story goes “I have heard many different regrets expressed by people nearing the end of life, but there is one regret I have never heard expressed. I have never heard anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away. I wish I had kept more for myself.’” Death has a way of clarifying what really matters.

So we have a choice?  Greed or God?  14th century theologian, Meister Eckhart, said “Only by allowing God to claim and possess us will life become a passionate and joyous celebration.  The one thing we need is not a thing at all.  it is God.  When we detach from things, God comes to fill or possess us by God’s Spirit.  And suddenly the world is full of life once more.”

Our lives and possessions are not our own. They belong to the universe and should be shared among all of the creation, not just those who enjoy the privilege of wealth. We rebel against this truth because we want to be in charge of our lives and our stuff.

Greed or God?  consuming, accumulating and possessing desire – or love, joy and peace in life.  What will we each choose?