“When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Lk.9:51). The journey to the cross continues. And every stop along the way is like Confirmation Class. Each lesson purposely meant to build on the previous ones with the goal, that we would reach MATURITY – not physical but spiritual maturity. The goal is that we may interpret and evaluate things according to the mind of God, which is almost always contrary to the mind of man – as we’ll see here in just a minute.
Today’s stop on the journey is a lesson on the subject of financial wealth and material possessions. I suspect that there may not be a clear-cut example in all the Scriptures of how the mind of God and the mind of Man are utterly opposed to each other than this one.
And so, I it is only fair to warn you that none of us is going to find this stop to be in the least bit pleasant or enjoyable. In fact, I will warn you right now that not one of us will survive this stop. It is going to be the death of us all.
We have come to the 12th chapter of Luke’s gospel which opens by setting the stage for what follows. “As so many thousands of the people had gathered together that THEY WERE TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER…” (12:1).
It’s a dangerous and deadly mob that is TRAMPLING ON ONE ANOTHER and being TRAMPLED ON BY ONE ANOTHER. And we are all in that that mob – ‘trampling’ and ‘being trampled.’
Out of the mob one voice is raised above all the others. “Teacher, he shouts, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Here is a man who believes that he is being ‘trampled on,’ and by his own brother no less. And he wants ‘justice’ for himself. And he asks Jesus the Rabbi to get it for him, going so far as to actually command Jesus what He must do. “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
What happened is this. The father of these two brothers had died without a will. (Hint, hint!) According to middle-eastern law of the day, the inheritance could not be divided until the older brother agreed on how the estate is to be divided. And for some reason, the older brother was dragging his feet and the younger brother was anxious to get his hands on his rightful share. “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus said to him, ‘MAN, who made me judge and arbitrator over you?” And what the man should have answered was, ‘You are the Son of God and You will come again to judge the living and the dead.’
It is not that Jesus refuses to take this man’s case. In fact, He has the same ‘compassion’ for this man as He has for the blind and the leprous and for the sheep without a shepherd and for you and me. In fact, our Lord wants more for this ‘man’ than this ‘man’ wants for himself.
Jesus raises His voice above the trampling mob so that He can be heard by ALL WHO WILL HEAR HIM – even loud enough to be heard in this very Sanctuary. “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 his possessions.”
That word, ‘covetousness’ is one that we are familiar with from the 9th and 10th Commandments. “You shall not ‘covet’ your neighbor’s house.” “You shall not ‘covet’ your neighbor’s wife or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” “Covetousness” is about wanting what belongs to someone else, which, if you don’t put a stop to it leads to ‘trampling on one another’ to get it.
But the word that Jesus uses here is not the same word as is used in the commandments. Here, Jesus uses a totally different word that speaks of “INSATIABLE DESIRE.” “Take care, and be on your guard against all ‘insatiable desire.’ An “insatiable desire” is a “craving” for something that CAN NEVER BE ‘SATISFIED.’ It’s always lacking, never enough, always needs more. It’s “insatiable.”
“How much is enough to live on?” “How much do I need to achieve financial security?” “How much do I need before I can retire comfortably?” “Just a little bit more.”
“Take care, and be on your guard against all ‘insatiable desire.’ Wealth and possessions have A MYSTERIOUS POWER to create a ‘fear’ in us, a fear of not having enough. Which leads to a ‘desire’ for more that is ‘insatiable.’ It’s never ‘enough.’ POSSESSIONS HAVE THE SPIRITUAL POWER TO POSSESS US.
A recent study has documented that the ‘self-storage’ building industry in the U.S. has grown exponentially into a $36 billion dollar per year business. One in eleven people have one to store their excess possessions in.
To be clear, the message on this stop on the journey IS NOT that we must all ‘downsize’ or perish. Our eternal life and salvation is, in no way, linked to our “possessions” or the abundance of our possessions. We are not damned to hell for renting a ‘self-storage’ building.
There are, in fact, plenty of examples of those who possess wealth and an abundance of possessions who stand as positive examples of the life of faith. Many of the early followers of Jesus were wealthy. The women who traveled with Jesus provided for Him and His disciples out of their “means.” Joseph of Arimathea, who buried the body of Jesus, was a wealthy man who could afford to have a family tomb chiseled out of rock.
The message on this stop on the journey is, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Our Lord confronts this man, WHO IS EACH ONE OF US, with the fundamental question, “WHAT DOES LIFE CONSIST OF?” What does it mean to ‘LIVE’ and be ‘ALIVE.’ And He answers in the negative, telling us what it DOES NOT consist of. “One’s life DOES NOT consist in the abundance of possessions.”
God Himself has established what ‘life’ consists of. In the beginning He “formed the man out of the dust of the ground and he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And the man became a ‘living being.’ “Life” consists of both body and soul, material and spiritual. To rend asunder this holy union and define ‘life’ only in terms of the ‘material,’ the abundance of possessions is not life at all.
On this stop on this journey to Jerusalem and to the cross, our Lord would have us grow up into a ‘mature faith’ that understands that “LIFE,” real life according to the mind of God and not of man, is far fuller and richer and satisfying than all the possessions in the world can provide.
Keeping wealth and possessions in their proper place, resisting the power they have to create that ‘insatiable desire’ in us is a struggle that we have all repeatedly failed in. It is against such lifeless and fleeting things as these that we see just how weak we are to stand against the “things of this world” that would drain the ‘life’ right out of us.
Our Lord tells a parable to the end that we would repent and “take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.
“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and 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.”
How many do you think, hear this parable to this point and wonder “so, what’s the problem.” Sounds like the American Dream and the goal of every pension plan to have “ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.” Sounds like Jesus has painted a picture of someone who is ready to live THE GOOD LIFE.
But that’s not the way we hear this parable at all, is it? Rather than congratulating this man on his success and being happy for him, we know that there is ‘something terribly wrong with this picture.’ The gospel changes the way we see things and evaluate things doesn’t it?
Jesus presents a man who started out ‘rich’ and got ‘richer’ and his only thought is, ‘how do I keep it all for myself.’
Last Sunday we heard Jesus teach His followers to pray and how to pray. But here, Jesus presents a man who does not pray. In fact, he doesn’t even discuss this with others, like his brothers and sisters in the congregation. He does what we are all urged to do by this world – ‘look inside yourself.’ ‘Listen to what you heart tells you. You’re sinful and corrupted heart.’
“He thought to himself…” “I will say to my soul…”
His plan is to tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones. Again, how many would say, ‘good strategy.’ More economical in the long run than renting a self-storage building.
But that’s not the way we hear it, is it? There is something at work in us that tells us that this is not called the parable of the ‘rich man’ but the ‘rich fool’ for a reason. Rather than giddy excitement for this man who has won the ‘farmer’s lottery,’ we hear the voice of our Lord saying, “take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness.”
What if he had prayed and asked God for direction? What if he had talked it over with the brothers and sisters in the congregation? The early church father, Augustine said that what he should have done was to consider that the bellies of the poor would make a much better place to store his excess than bigger barns.
There is a voice that has come from OUTSIDE OF US that speaks to us the very MIND OF GOD and makes us think and evaluate this matter MATURELY.
It is to this ‘lifeless’ man, that a voice from OUTSIDE OF HIMSELF breaks into this man’s dialog with himself. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’”
There is ‘AMAZING GRACE’ in this word from God to this LIFELESS man. For God has NOT forsaken him or written him off. In His great compassion for this man, and we are all ‘this man,’ HE CALLS HIM BY THE GOSPEL, calling him to repent and turn from his deadly foolishness.
It is the same for us. Our possessions have the power to possess us and the abundance of possessions has an abundant power to possess us. And we are SO WEAK that we cannot stand against them.
AND TO CONFESS THIS IS A SIGN OF GREAT MATURITY. To confess that we are helpless against these ‘earthly forces’ and that our only hope for LIFE, is to rely solely on the grace of God and in His mercy to forgive us all of our sins and create in us a clean heart and a right spirit is a sign of GREAT MATURITY.
For we have another story that defines our life than that of the ‘rich fool.’ Our life is defined by the story of Jesus Christ, “who though He was rich, yet for your sake became poor, that we by His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:1-3)
And so, we stand in the shoes of the man in the mob who cries out to Jesus, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Only to hear Jesus reply, “I am your brother, and I have come to divide My Father’s will with you. It is why I am going to Jerusalem. And your share is “LIFE”, even ‘abundant life’ and in me, you have “life to the full.”
Here again we have one of those parables of our Lord that has no conclusion to it. The story stops but doesn’t end. The unruly mob is frozen in place. The man, with fist still raised to the air, has heard the Word that comes from outside himself. And we are left to wonder, ‘how will he respond?’
Again, the best we can do, is to decide how it will go for us.