13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (NRSV)
|Derelict Barn. by B Gilmour. Creative commons image on flickr|
Last weekend, while we were visiting Denver, we were shocked by the number of panhandlers roaming the streets. There was at least one person at every stoplight and intersection holding a ragged cardboard sign begging for money, food, or shelter.
I always get rush of feelings when I someone begging. The most obvious feeling is sadness. And yet, I’ve never lowered the window and given them a dollar. Instead, I’m thinking: “what if they use it to buy tobacco, drugs, or alcohol?” “Can’t they just go to a rescue mission or soup kitchen?” Any reason I can think of to keep the window shut, until the light turns green and I’m on my way…
Still, I can’t help but wonder: what am I really afraid of here? Of what they will do with my dollar—or, what I will do without my dollar? Am I afraid of giving something away and not being in control of the outcome?
I can’t help but wonder about this as Jesus speaks the parable of the rich fool. It all starts with two siblings who are at odds with each other over an inheritance. They want Jesus to settle the dispute. But he won’t do that. Instead, he tells them the story of one man, his barns, and his treasures.
After a highly successful harvest, he resolves to pull down his barns and build bigger ones to store up his crops and his goods. In his mind, he’s got it made. His life will be worry-free from this point forward.
Just then, God appears—to declare that all his life is at its end. All of his wealth and success have added up to nothing.
You may have noticed that as the fool talks to himself, there’s no gratitude; no thought of sharing in the wondrous bounty with his workers or anyone else. It’s all about him.
He had many treasures, but he was not rich toward God.
Now I could stop right there, and tell you that if you don’t give generously of your treasures, you’ll share in the rich fool’s fate. But I need to be clear about one thing—you don’t get rich toward God by what you do. God’s riches are freely given. And I’m not talking about stuff, here. I’m talking treasures in heaven: the love of your Creator God and Savior Jesus Christ. By the Holy Spirit, treasures in heaven become treasures of peace, hope, and new beginnings for the here-and-now.
But all too often, you and I forsake these treasures for the flashier, instantly-gratifying treasures of the here-and-now. All too often, you and I cling to money and possessions, fully believing that they will bring us the life our souls crave.
This can go three ways:
1. You have great wealth and possessions, and you’re living the high life. You don’t need forgiveness or anything else from God, except to keep the blessings coming. If so, you are definitely poor toward God.
2. You may have wealth and possessions in great or small measure, but you’re empty. You know money can’t buy happiness, but still you cling to things. Still, your soul aches for more. You, too, are poor toward God.
3. You don’t have wealth or possessions. You may have enjoyed much at one time and lost it; or maybe you’ve never had much at all. So how can you feel rich towards God if you are without your daily bread?
The rich fool’s first folly is that he failed to acknowledge that his barns and all the treasures contained therein were not his. It all belongs to God. His life belongs to God.
It is never God’s will that God’s gifts be enjoyed only by a fortunate few…
This leads to his second folly: he is completely self-absorbed. He’s not just missing out on what it means to be a Christian. He’s missing out on what it means to be human. The only love he knows is the love for stuff that cannot love him back. People are treated not as brothers and sisters but as means to his own ends.
To become rich toward God, on the other hand, begins with a trust: that you matter to God—and that your needs matter to God. You don’t need to cling onto every morsel of what you own to ensure that your needs will be met. Just thank God for what you have today—and trust God for tomorrow.
And hold on loosely to what God has entrusted to you. Give freely to those in need, and leave the rest to God.
The good news for the rich and poor alike is that God is faithful. But these words become meaningless babble unless you and I are committed to meeting the needs of others with the same urgency as we meet our own—and not with hand-outs, but with hands to hold and lives to share.
So practice letting go. Give something away without analyzing the decision. After all, in Christ, you don’t need to be wealthy to make a difference in someone’s life. When you can give something away, even when you don’t have much, you are rich. When you trust the Savior who gave his life on the cross for you, who raises the dead, who promises never to leave you or forsake you, you are rich. When you trust that your life matters to God—and other people’s lives matter to you, you are rich.