Summary: When we forget that there is another "world," a life in the presence of God, then we are destined for a grim shock; we may think we are pursuing success, but our focus only on the things of this world ultimately leads to failure.
I have a vivid memory of an old “Family Circus” cartoon. A copy of the cartoon hung on my grandmother’s refrigerator at her home in North Carolina. This particular “Family Circus” frame shows Grandma working away in the kitchen, and Jeffy running towards her from the other room. As Jeffy is hurrying into the kitchen, he is saying, “Momma says ‘No,’ and Daddy says ‘Yes.’ Grandma, will you break the tie?”
To some degree, that is what is going on at the beginning of this Scripture from Luke. A man and his brother are in a disagreement, so one brother goes to Jesus, hoping he’ll “break the tie.” It was not unusual for people to go to Rabbis with disputes, and for the Rabbis to act as judges or arbiters in the matter. However, Jesus isn’t going to go there; he isn’t going to get caught in the middle of a petty dispute about money and property. I find it interesting that Jesus spent a lot of his time teaching about money and material possessions, perhaps more than any other subject except the kingdom of God; and yet, he refused to get caught in the middle of a property dispute. How we handle our material resources is an important matter, but what Jesus is essentially saying through his response to the man’s question is that we shouldn’t worry and fret about material possessions because there are bigger things to life, and it’s all God’s anyway! One’s life is made secure not by things, but by triumph over things. Jesus knows this and so he takes the opportunity to tell a parable in an effort to re-direct the man’s concerns and open his eyes. Jesus is saying to that man, and to us, that we worry ourselves about the wrong things.
The modern Western world is built on anxiety. Just consider that for a moment. I suspect you can conjure several images of anxiety without much thought. You can see it everywhere. We see it on the faces of people hurrying to work, cutting one another off in traffic, tying their tie in the rear-view mirror or fixing their hair. We see it even more as people travel home, tired but without having solved life’s problems. Faces are weary, puzzled, living the unanswerable question as to what it all means. We often thrive on setting higher and higher goals for ourselves, and each other, and then we worry all day and all year about whether we will reach them. It’s so bad that we often set ourselves on a downward cycle where we are worried about worrying. And if we do reach our goals, we will set new ones. If we don’t, we will feel as if we’ve failed. Is this really how we are supposed to live? In this scripture passage today, Jesus once again talks to us about a higher pursuit, he is calling us toward that place where we truly belong, where are souls and even our lives are made whole and complete.
A young man and an older man were having a conversation about the future. The young man said, “I’m gonna learn a trade.”
“And then?” asked the older man.
“I’ll set up my business.”
“I’ll make my fortune.”
“I suppose I will grow old and retire and live on my money.”
“Well, I suppose that someday I will die.”
“And then?” came the last stabbing question.
We can concern ourselves over the matters of this world and end up on a dead end street, or we can seek the mind of Christ and the kingdom of God. As Jesus tells this parable, we see some rather unattractive traits in this man; he is gripped by greed and preoccupied with possession. Two things become particularly clear about the man in this parable; he never saw beyond himself, and he never saw beyond this world. An author writes, “When my oldest son, Nathan, was a teenager, he told me that he had decided to become a stockbroker, a millionaire by age 30, and retire to the Bahamas.” The author notes, “I told him I would be deeply hurt to see him fail so badly.”
When we get focused on the wrong things, we set ourselves up for failure. The man in the parable was wildly self-centered. He had an abundance of goods, yet the one thought that never entered his mind was to give any away, and all the man’s plans were made on the basis of life here. When we forget that there is another world, we are destined for a grim shock; we may think that we are pursuing success, but we will only find failure. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”