Scripture: Luke 12:13-21
I hate to admit it but I spend quite a bit of time reading posts on Facebook. I am sure none of you do this. While scrolling through the posts I find something very awkward. I will be scrolling and find my friends, most of which are very committed to their faith traditions, but often they have vastly opposing views when it comes to political stances. If you have spent any time listening to the radio, watching TV, or reading articles on-line or in various periodicals you will find that when it comes to political stances there is a wide range of opinions within realm of Christianity. The reason for this is that the Kingdom of God and the nations of the world are not equal. The main focus of both is in different areas of the human experience. Sure at times there may overlaps because they both involve the interactions between communities of humans. We need to be very careful not to confuse the two.
I bring this up because this passage brings up the legal aspects of human relations. As they scene begins, it is clear that Jesus is teaching a group of people, and during an interlude or maybe when Jesus is taking a drink of water someone from the crowd yells out to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” I am sure that the person that yelled out this statement felt that it was a reasonable request. If we were to take a closer look at the teachings of Jesus we too would probably come to a conclusion that in the Kingdom of God we should take care of those less fortunate, give to those in need, and share what we have. In the Book of Acts it is clear that the followers of Jesus took the teachings of Jesus very personal and shared everything that they had, many sold all of their possessions and gave the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to the community as needed. The followers of Jesus also began to see people differently too. The writings of Paul spoke of all people being equal. According to the teachings of Jesus and His followers in the Kingdom of God the status of people do not matter, the gender, nationality, or race but all are equal in the eyes of God. If these actions were spawned by the teachings of Jesus, it is not surprising that someone would ask Jesus to mediate. If all people were equal, Jesus would surely support the cause of the lesser in the family. Surely he would oppose the traditions and the laws of the land and urge the elder brother to divide the estate equally.
This however is not the approach that Jesus took. In response to this heckler Jesus instead said, “Friend, who set me to be a judge and arbitrator over you?” I personally find this response very interesting. This week I have read this passage several times in study and prayer. This response has been something that has stuck out to me the most. Who set me to be a judge and arbitrator over you? What exactly is Jesus saying? In essence His response to this man is similar to the response He gave to the religious teachers when asked if they should pay taxes to Cesar or not. That response said that we should render unto Cesar what is Cesar’s and unto God what is God’s. This is not a spiritual matter but a civil matter, one that has traditional, customary, and legal ramifications. Jesus did not come to change the political systems of the day. If Jesus would have entered into this discussion it would have caused a revolution beyond what the community was prepared to handle.
Jesus did however speak to the heart of the issue of the outburst. “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” This man was trying to act as if he was concerned with the inequality of the system, but the way in which he phrased his statement was one of personal gain than social concern. This is why Jesus says, “Take care!” and why His initial response gripped my attention. Our culture is filled with many voices that seem to have social concern within the wavelengths but within the words could be tainted with greed.
I bring this up because many leaders mix religion and politics to twist our minds to support their causes. Take care, Jesus tells us. Take care and be on your guard against all kinds of greed. Greed comes in many forms, and some of them are cleverly disguised. Greed always seeks personal gain in some way and this opposes the kingdom of God. To illustrate the point Jesus tells a parable. He speaks of a man whose land produced abundantly and the man thinks to himself I have nowhere to store my crops. The man then builds larger barns to store his grain. This in itself is not wrong. It is necessary to store grain after harvest. If the storage facility is not adequate for the level of production much grain will be spoiled and rendered useless.
We will stop there for the moment. Jesus is not saying that buildings are wrong. If there is a need in the community proper facilities should be constructed so that the community will not suffer. In this case the land in which this man lived and the community he headed had an abundance of grain, the community needed facilities to store the grain for future use. The correct thing to do in this story is to upgrade the facilities. To neglect the facilities and to let the abundance of grain to go to waste because the landowner was unwilling to spend the money would be a sin because that is a form of greed, cleverly disguised as conservative values. I say this because a landowner in ancient times usually not single family, as we know it, but a community. There would be the patriarch or the owner of the land, the extended family, and servants or employees. The produce from the land would not only feed the patriarch’s nuclear family but was also responsible for the well being and lifestyle of everyone under the employ of the patriarch. To neglect the facilities rob the livelihood from the least of the community.
So the landowner in the story is thinking to himself, as he looks at the facility needs before him. He decides that he will put down the old barns and build larger ones. For the community the landowner makes the right decision, the larger facilities will insure that less grain will spoil, which could in turn significantly improve the overall wellbeing of the community. But then another form of greed steps in. He begins to have a conversation with his soul saying, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be marry.” This form of greed is to use the community for personal gain. The man built the barn, but then he began to entertain the thoughts that if he would neglect the least in the community then he and his family could live an easy and carefree life.
Take care! Be on your guard against all forms of greed! This one passage speaks volumes on the differences between the Kingdom of God and the nations of the world. In the world greed rules, it can be corporate greed, personal greed; it could be greed of management and/or labor. In the world, greed can often affect the decisions that are made. These decisions affect various levels of society differently. Jesus encourages us to rise above the greed and to live a different life. He does not tell us to do this by infiltrating the governmental systems and force the populous to submit, but instead to live your personal lives differently. The landowner of the story is blessed with abundance and is faced with some major decisions. What exactly will he do, will he build or let some spoil, will he compensate fairly or will he consume the abundance himself? What is the difference between the Kingdom of God and that of man?
“But 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?’” Whose will they be? In the end of days what is left from all of our efforts? The only thing left after everything else is gone is the community. The man in the story built barns to store the abundance of the land, and intended to live the easy life, but in the end who profits from the effort, it goes back to the community. We can live our lives trying to gain more, we can base our decisions on the greed of various forms, but in the end all of our life can be boiled down to one thing, loving God with all our mind, spirit, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.
The question then comes to how do we do this? Those that followed Jesus early in the church said that they sold all that they had and shared it with the community. They lived together, worked together, served together. If a need arose the community would meet the need and all of them would live together as equals, not a slave or freeman not a man or woman, but equal and free to live as God called them to live. They would use the gifts that they had been blessed with to encourage the community. And through each member contributing their gifts without hesitation the community grew, not because they lorded power over others, but because they showed a different life. A life not controlled by greed but love and mutual acceptance.
But quickly we begin to miss the mark and allow the ways of the world to enter into the community and we can then twist the ways of man into the ways of God. This happened in the Book of Acts with Ananias and Sapphira, who sold their property and lied to the spirit because they withheld some of the proceeds for themselves hoping to gain undue honor. The cycle and the struggle between the kingdoms have continued throughout history and are found even in our own traditions of faith. The early Friends tried to change this and restore a community built on love and acceptance. They would meet together and provide for the less fortunate while serving according to their giftedness. They came to be known for their testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality. People like Cadbury would build business communities that focused on the community above profit, paying honest wages for honest work and using the profits to strengthen the community.
Our culture is often caught choosing sides and facing off against one another, but are we fighting the right fight? Could we have confused which Kingdom we are actually seeking? Could it be that in our quest to build a “Christian” nation that we have actually forgotten to be a “Christian” people? Are we looking at the abundance God has blessed us with and thinking to ourselves let us eat, drink, and be merry? These are tough questions but ones we must answer. The kingdom we live in is based on how we live our lives, and the relationships we build.
As we enter into this time of open worship let us consider our lives and our gifts. We are a community filled with an abundance of various gifts. Gifts and blessings that we could hold to ourselves or use to build great storehouses to bless our community. Let us examine our lives and consider if God is saying to us you fool or my Friend.