Summary: Jesus invites us to rethink how we evaluate human worth with a parable about a successful man whom God regarded as a fool.
Text: Luke 12:15-21
This passage of Scripture is troubling. It may not strike us as troubling on the surface. Indeed we are likely to say the obligatory “Amen” on reading or hearing this passage read in worship. (Remember Amen means “so let it be” or “I agree, I concur, I endorse”).
But a bit of reflection and some concentration quickly betrays just how troubling, how subversive, how revolutionary, how radical and how disturbing this passage is.
I. It is troubling and disturbing because it goes against the dominant orientation of our culture—a market driven experience. Everything in our culture seems to drive us to possess things, to seek satisfaction, ease, comfort, and improved quality of life in ever increasing and improved material goods. Against this we hear Jesus’ words: A person’s life is not about things he or she owns.
II. It is radical because it flies in the face of the unwritten, undiscussed, and unacknowledged philosophy of our times (as I heard someone put it some time ago): Get all you can, anyway you can, can all you get and then make sure others cannot get to the can. Against this we hear Jesus’ voice loudly and clearly: An individual’s life is not about possessions.
III. The text is subversive because it defies the spirit of our times; it violates our sense of national greatness. For although we glibly trumpet that America is great because of “democracy and values,” the truth is we know our greatness lies in the juggernaut of our productive engine. We not only consume and pollute more than any other nation, but we produce more than anyone else. And it is not all bad. We have developed and invented machines, tools and devices that have made life easier not just for pampered suburban wives but also for struggling families in third-world/poor nations. Although we have been rallying around the flag and singing, repeating, praying, mumbling mantra-like “God bless America,” deep down we must know we are not always addressing God or paying homage to Him, but saying something about ourselves: we believe God must be on our side to protect our way of life, which very much revolves around the things we own-or that own us. Against this we discern the persuasive voice of Jesus saying: Life is not about goods and commodities—not about things.
Illustration: Just recently we saw the eroding power of this mad grab for things when a recent large lotto jackpot was won by a family in New Jersey. A number of workers at a nursing home believed they had won the jackpot as part of a workers pool. Their reason for thinking they had won? Well the worker who had purchased the ticket did not report to work on the day the after the lottery. And one of the winning tickets had not been presented for payment yet. Ergo their fellow worker had absconded with their potential winnings. For a number of days speculations were bandied in the media that the missing worker had “gypped,” bamboozled, defrauded his coworkers. To make a long story, short the man was innocent—he had missed work for reasons having nothing to do with the lottery, and the true winner finally came along. The 19 putatively defrauded workers, meanwhile, had already signed up the legal sharks who smelt blood and money. They were going in for the kill. Imagine the strained relationships, the plans some people started to make-- the depression and sense of frustration when it turned out that millions were not coming their way after all. Beware of covetousness: life is not about things, possessions, money.
And so this passage is one we would rather were not in the Bible. But it’s there. In our face. And less we take comfort as a church (I am referring to the entire Christian church now) that the surrounding culture is the problem, a bit of soul-searching reminds us that we are not only very much marching to the beat of the cultural drum, but we have refined and sanctified the ideologies, the philosophies, the script by which we live and govern our lives.
Illustration: Recent story on TV: woman whose son had been saved from drowning by another mother. The grateful mother told the media if she had money should would send her son’s rescuer on a nice long holiday cruise.
Turn on the TV to the Sunday morning services and invariably you will get a service that reminds you that God wants you to have, to have, to get, to acquire, to be prosperous.
And even those of us who are wary of the so-called “prosperity Gospel” (which is no Gospel really)—might sometime find ourselves in situations where we take comfort in those passages that suggest that our God really might come to our rescue with promotion, wealth, material possessions. The Old Testament is very helpful here.