Summary: We are really good at accumulating stuff. But how often do our possessions begin to possess us? Jesus warns us about the dangers of greed and calls us to be more than our net worth, challenging us to invest rather in godly pursuits.
Making Long-term Investments
Wow! Today’s passage is a little shocking for those of us who enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this greatest nation on God’s green earth. By world’s standards, we are the richest of the rich. We may not be one percenters by U.S. standards, but we certainly are by world standards. Even the poor and impoverished in America fare quite well by world standards. And as Will Rogers once said, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.”
So what are we to think about Jesus’ teachings on wealth? And what does today’s passage have to say for us?
We can guess that it is only the context of the moment why Jesus is so hard on wealth. After all, he’s lashing out at a guy in the crowd who obviously has some selfish motive for wanting more of the estate coming to him. “Make my brother give me my fair share!” And Jesus retorts, “Who put me in charge of you?” There were civic courts for this kind of thing, and Jesus wasn’t going to be drug into it, although he did choose to use it as a teachable moment on the peril of greed.
So, is this an isolated incident, where Jesus attacks greed and wealth? Not really. Consider his Sermon on the Mount comments (Matthew 6:19-21) where he says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth ... But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Someone once said, “You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul.” The one with the most toys ... still dies, and then comes eternal judgment. You can’t take it with you! So Jesus says, send it on ahead. Use your wealth to make long-term investments. And what’s the longest term? Something that will last forever: God’s kingdom and the people that you help send there. Use your money to further God’s causes—such as love, justice, forgiveness, and so forth, and to lead people to Christ and life eternal.
Or consider Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler. In Mark 10:21 Jesus tells him, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But that young man turned away sorrowfully because, like you and me, he had an abundance of possessions. Then Jesus remarked to his disciples how difficult it is for a rich person to make it into heaven. To illustrate, he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). The disciples responded, “Well who, then, can be saved?” Which prompted Jesus to say, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
Jesus is pretty consistent on his view of wealth and money: it can be a real stumbling block in our relationship with God and others. So what is the point of today’s story? Why is Jesus so negative on what we might call the American Dream? Is he condemning wealth and savings and retirement? Does he really expect us to give away everything and have nothing?
No, I don’t think so. Remember the woman who lavished that expensive alabaster jar of perfume on his feet, and one of his disciples complained that the money for that could have been used to feed the poor? Jesus praised the woman’s worshiping heart and replied, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). Jesus obviously didn’t think that being poor was the answer or necessarily a free ticket to heaven.
I think the key to understanding Jesus’ point in today’s story is at the very end of the parable. After God tells the man, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus says, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not ... rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).
Those last three words are the key: “rich toward God.” I don’t think Jesus is saying an abundance of possessions is in itself a bad thing. There were lots of rich people in the Bible who followed God with all their heart: Abraham in the Old Testament was extremely wealthy, and we’ll see next week that he is the Bible’s very definition of faith. Wealthy Joseph of Arimathea was a secret follower of Jesus, a member of the Jewish religious elite, and the one who funded Jesus’ burial before his resurrection. Lydia was a successful businesswoman who helped Paul start the first church in Europe. And the list goes on and on.