Summary: Jesus isn't simply telling us not to be anxious. He's calling us to have a completely different attitude towards material possessions and material needs from the rich fool; to be confident in God and in that confidence, to be rich towards God and others.
‘Do not be anxious.’ That’s what Jesus told his disciples. If only! we might think. Can we banish anxiety from our hearts simply because Jesus tells us to?
We’re in a series in Luke, following Jesus and his disciples on their journey from Galilee down to Jerusalem. Their journey starts in Luke 9 when Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. It continues all the way to Luke 19 when Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey.
As Jesus travels along he heals. He drives out demons. He has arguments with the Jewish leaders. And naturally, he draws crowds. At the beginning of chapter 12, Luke writes, ‘In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another…’
We need to imagine Jesus in a great crowd of people. He’s teaching. Then a man in the crowd calls out ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’
Jesus has no intention of telling the man’s brother to do anything. He says, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ But what Jesus does do is give the man, and indeed the whole crowd, some very good advice. Luke continues: ‘And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.”‘
You may be wondering what this has got to do with not being anxious. We’ll come to it!
Jesus wants to explain what he means and he tells a parable. The parable is about a rich man. Jesus said, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully.’ Production was ticking along very nicely. Now listen to the rich man’s thought process. This is from verse 17. [Emphasise ‘I’ and ‘my’ when you’re reading, also ‘relax, eat, drink, be merry.’]
…he thought to himself, ’What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear 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...’
Did anything strike you? This rich man said ‘I’ five times. He said ‘my’ five times. His goal is to ‘relax, eat, drink and be merry’. He’s very self-centred, isn’t he?
Jesus told the crowd, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.’
This rich man illustrates Jesus’ warning. He coveted material wealth. As far as he was concerned, what the land produced was his and he was free to do with it as he wished. He didn’t sense any obligation towards people around him or towards God. He was rich towards himself and not rich towards anyone else as far as we can see.
But the rich man’s happy thoughts are interrupted. That night, as he is dreaming about his barn, God enters the situation. ‘Fool!’ God says. Do you imagine God like a kindly, sympathetic doctor who would never say ‘Fool!’ to one of his patients? Maybe you should revise your view! God then tells the rich man why he was a fool. Did he imagine that storing all his produce would give him security or status? It didn’t! That night his life would be demanded of him. He had been rich towards himself and had not been rich towards others.
Jesus concludes: ‘So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.’
You may be surprised that Jesus says, ‘is not rich towards God’ rather than ‘is not rich towards others.’ But it amounts to the same.
Do you remember Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25? Jesus is talking about the final judgement. He tells a group of people on his right ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me,’ and so on. The group on Jesus’ right is surprised, but Jesus tells them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Jesus then reverses it and tells the group on his left, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did NOT do it to one of the least of these, you did NOT do it to me’ [Matt 25:31-46].
In Jesus’ parable, Jesus said the rich man wasn’t rich towards God. I take it that he didn’t show any compassion to people around him, and God took that as not being rich towards him.