Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 49.1-12; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21
LASTING VALUE, LASTING VALUES
‘The rich without understanding are like the beasts that perish’ (Psalm 49.12)
Introduction: There is a lot of mention of ‘values’ these days, as well as ‘value’. And there are so-called ‘valued customers’. We are constantly confronted with the state of the real estate market, and the refrain that we know the value of our property, and consider capturing it by selling it. [I find this demoralizing, in a strict sense of undermining my Christian faith and trust in God, so I don’t read the real estate pages unless I am in the market, which has only happened twice.] Personally, I am much more challenged by the debate around schooling, and the growth in the number of parents who choose independent schools, especially those of Christian foundation, for their ‘values’. They want the discipline and the ethics that derive from the Christian Faith, but not the personal conviction and obedience upon which it depends. So the words ‘value’ or ‘values’ are not as substantial as they may sound, lacking definition and content. However, they are evidence of a quest for things that last, which brings us to the Gospel for today, and the ultimate question about what really lasts.
We have jumped a bit from our Lord’s giving the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples (because the teaching is also in Matthew). We are further along the road, watching through the eyes and ears of Luke’s special witnesses. The themes remain: Proclaiming the Kingdom; Discipleship ‘on the road’; the mystery of belief and unbelief; growing opposition; the dangers of possessions (as we see today).
- Interruptions along the way: the way Jesus takes moves inexorably toward Jerusalem, but it is less than direct, Jesus choosing to avoid some places, and attending to others. There are dinner invitations (11.37, 14.1; both from Pharisees eager to make a close assessment of Jesus); and crowd interjections, such as triggers the episode today. We will hear another in a few weeks time (14.1). Today, Jesus is being mobbed: ‘Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples…’ (12.1). Then a voice cries out: ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me’. The tone is ‘it’s not fair! Justice for me, please!’ The details are very typically Palestinian of the day.
- Jesus Responds: The response of Jesus is in three parts.
i) Our Lord answers the interjector, not to address his appeal, but to challenge the underlying assumption, the covetous instinct that motivates him. In fact he refuses to arbitrate, asserting that it is not his job to give formal judgement in the dispute: ‘Man, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ i.e. Jesus is more heart-surgeon than lawyer, and will not give any oxygen to the materialist motivation he sees in the interjector’s outburst. The response is conditioned by the context, and the interjector’s tone, which suggests he as no motivation but his own benefit.
ii) Jesus at once makes it a lesson for the disciples, turning to them and saying: ‘take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.’ This is no more that the tenth commandment, and we know St Paul relayed the same warning against the idolatry of covetousness: it is idol-worship to invest created things with meaning independent of the Creator who made them. To spell it out Jesus goes on: ‘One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Your life is more than your things! I hope we are all aware of how we can become attached to them, so that sometimes it seems as if they actually possess us.
iii) Perhaps because the crowd is still surrounding them, Jesus tells a parable, to reinforce the lesson for the disciples, but also to arouse the crowd to think about the issue at stake. ‘The Parable of the Rich Fool’ is how it has become known. Brief, dramatic: READ vv 16-20.
Two themes are underlined: a. You can’t take it with you, which echoes the Psalm (49) today; and b. You will be held accountable for what you did with it all.
- The Message for Us: We are to see ourselves as among the disciples, and there is direct advice for us from our Lord himself. However, this episode comes from an interjection, and the main weight of the response from Jesus is to the outsider, as is suggested by his use of a parable. Next week we will hear teaching more directed to the disciples. But we can’t miss the relevance to our situation. The rich man of the parable thinks he is being prudent. He is forward-looking; he is making plans. In this he sounds like one of us; he could be in an advertisement for any of a hundred financial products commended to us in the media. But he is revealed to us as a fool: ‘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?’ The implication is that he has prepared for his own comfort, rather than for his ultimate destiny. And there is a hint that he has not even provided in his will for anyone that might benefit from his prosperity.
We in Sydney are generally in danger of the seduction of middle-class values. Most of us probably voted recently for the party that would attend best to wealth creation, and would place more wealth in our own hands to distribute than in the hands of government. Did we vote for them so we could give more away? I don’t think I did. Luke will not let us off the hook. It seems every scrap of teaching from Jesus to do with wealth and possessions has been gathered by him for his Gospel. He challenges us. What are our defining values? What do we have of value? The rich fool’s fate is that of ‘those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God’. Many of us do make it our business to be rich toward God. I really do recognise this, and commend you. But we must never be complacent. One test of this might be to ask what our neighbours think of us. Or what do our diocesan schools do to influence their students and their families with the values of the Kingdom? Do we pray for them? What might each of us do this week to reflect a desire to be ‘rich toward God’?