Summary: This sermon deals with Christian attitudes about money.
None of us would argue that money is a necessity. There is virtually no way we can exist without it, at least not in our economy. Many Americans place a great deal of stock in their money. We feel a certain sense of security when we have money or at least material resources we can sell for money should we need it. There was another time in our history when Americans placed great stock in the security of having money only to have their dreams dashed. In the early part of this century, much of the available capital in the United States and the entire world was invested in the stock market. During the bull years of 1928 and 1929, the market was the economy. In August of 1929, John J. Raskob, Wall Street mongul, wrote an article for the Ladies’ Home Journal entitles "Everybody Ought to Be Rich." He stated that anyone could be worth $80,000 in ten years if he or she invested a mere $15 a week in the market. Then it happened. September’s prices began to slide. By the end of the month, the leading issues on the New York Stock Exchange has lost $2.8 million. Still in October, Irving Fisher, professor of economics at Yale, announced that prices had reached what looked like a permanently high plateau. He was confident that in a few months the plateau would be even higher. One week later, sell orders overwhelmed brokers the minute the doors of the New York Stock Exchange opened. Everything began to drop. By the end of October, through Blue Monday and Black Tuesday, $50 billion dollars was lost. Thousands of banks closed. Runs on banks were common. They were named such because people literally ran to remove their money from the banks. There was no insurance to protect a person’s money should the bank fail as it is now. Because of the stock market crash and the many bank failures, Americans would learn to distrust what they placed so much security in. The world of money had failed, and in the process betrayed the implicit trust of the Americans. One of Rollin Kirby’s most effective cartoons portrayed an unemployed man sitting disconsolately on a park bench. He had nothing to feed the squirrel that sat in front of him begging for peanuts. The squirrel asks, "But why didn’t you save some money for the future when times were good?" The man replied, "I did."
If we are not careful, we too can place our trust in things that are not permanent or eternally secure. The rich fool that Jesus told of did just that. He was condemned because he was rich, but it was his actions that made him foolish. We must keep money and material possession in proper perspective. Clear thinking in these areas can sometimes be difficult. Jesus tells the parable to illustrate how foolish it is to find our security in earthly things such as money and material possessions that do not last while neglecting those things that bring eternal security.
Again, we find a crowd of people surrounding Jesus. One man works his way to the front with a complaint, hoping Jesus would settle it for him. It seems his brother would not divide the inheritance with him. It is not unusual for estate settlements to cause family quarrels. Probably most of us have been involved in such a quarrel or are familiar with someone who has.
Jesus asks the man why he came to him with his problem. In Jewish society, rabbis usually settled these disputes. Jesus had no official standing as a judge that this man’s brother would listen to him. In addition, Jesus had more important work to accomplish than to involve himself in such trivial matters such as this. In light of his mission to save people, inheritance rights were of little concern.
Normal Jewish practice was for the firstborn to inherit double that of the other sons. This man obviously held a grudge against an older brother, perhaps for not dividing the estate. After answering the man, Jesus turns his attention back to the crowd. He warns them against greed, telling them that a person’s life does not consist merely in the abundance of material possessions he might have. The question that man asks of Jesus shows that he mistook ownership for possession. Greed is a poison that blinds people. This man obviously assumed that ownership of material wealth would automatically mean a meaningful life for him.
To illustrate the poisonous effects of greed, Jesus tells the story of the rich fool. The ground of this certain rich man produced a good crop. So abundant was the harvest that the rich man had no place to store his crops. In this time, grain was one of three crops raised by Jewish farmers, the others being grapes and olives. Raising grain had become a route to financial security for many farmers. In looking for a way to store his crops, the farmer wrongly assumed that his wealth would last.