8th Sunday after Pentecost 

July 31, 2022

Summary

Thinking right – seeing right – living right – not foolish

13 Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 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.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21 ESV)

Today we hear another scene in Jesus’ life – he’s ambushed by a question from the crowd – and he responds with the parable we call ‘The Rich Fool’. Since we last met Jesus last week in Luke 11 where his disciples asked him to teach them to pray, Luke gives us many scenes. There is Jesus casting out demons but getting described as the prince of demons bossing around underlings to which Jesus responds that a kingdom divided against itself can’t stand and be careful of the demons returning (Luke 11:14-26). A woman in the crowd praises Jesus’ mother for bearing him. So there is obviously support in the crowd not just criticism. Jesus responds by saying the blessed are those hear the Word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28). In other words, those who hear him!

As the crowds increase, Jesus challenges and confronts them because they want signs – to see or to have – but that is what people always want – God’s gifts not the Giver himself. Sadly that is what the world’s religions offer as do, unfortunately, many Christian groups – come here to get the gifts, the happiness, the blessings which are translated into the good things of this world – success and health, money and possessions. The benefits of religion are supposed to be prosperity on our terms, as we want but Jesus said that the only sign to be given would be the sign of Jonah in the Son of Man – which today we understand is the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is what Jesus was always about – bringing people and God together in a relationship – but people then and people today – and Christians, too, don’t want a relationship with God unless it is one that gives us good things. By nature people cry out, ‘What’s the point of relating to God if we don’t get anything out of it?’. Jesus, forever, was countering this attitude with the view our life – the one we live each day – can be lived with God in a growing relationship of faith, hope, and love – and our life – the one we live each day with this God – is lived in our relationships with those around us. That is what life is all about – God with you which is different to the world’s way of living.

This truth that God loves me and is with me is true whether I am happy or sad, whether today is successful day or the day I get the diagnosis of a terminal illness. God’s love is not determined by the good things I get that I say I want. God’s love is relational and he is with us and helps us each day – that is what the cross and empty tomb remind us – and that truth or light shouldn’t be hidden and so the Gospel lights up our life – even when we struggle to believe. (See Luke 11:33-36.)

And then Jesus clearly attacks and challenges the religious leaders of his day for turning the relationship with God into fear by making people behave in ways they, themselves, don’t do and by concentrating on looking good without looking at the heart. (See Luke 11:37-12:3.)

But Jesus never leaves people quivering in fear. He tells them not to be afraid and Jesus challenges the crowds, too, to follow and acknowledge the Son of Man and not to behave by looking good to the religious leaders or each other. Instead they are to follow and acknowledge the Son of Man and not deny him and not be afraid when they are dragged before courts and authorities for the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say at the right time. (See Luke 12:4-12.) Jesus is calling the people to himself.

Can you sense the drama, the turmoil, the chaos, the friction, the wonder, the dread of Jesus among the crowds – and we imagine the disciples both excited, concerned, and bewildered.

And then the ‘ambush’ question comes out of the crowd about Jesus ruling on an inheritance dispute. Rule in my favour, Rabbi! Give me justice! Can you hear that the caller has already decided on who is right and who is wrong and on what is justice? We all, by nature, do that when we are in conflict – because our starting position is that we are right – or more right than the other person – and justice is what we say it is. Jesus rejects the question – not because there isn’t a problem, obviously there is, but because the caller doesn’t want reconciliation. He wants things his way. And Jesus never contributes to what harms us. He does his will for us. Faith is about trusting that Jesus – and for us God – knows what he is doing.

So Jesus tells a parable about how to live in this world – not like the rich fool. And we describe the parable and the man this way because God calls the rich man a ‘fool’ in a society that uses a number of words for fool. The New Testament uses four words which in English we might translate as mindless, without wisdom, moron, and fool or stupid. And this foolishness or stupidity is about not thinking straight, not judging according to the evidence, not being intelligent or insightful – today we might say that the person is blind or prejudiced and who doesn’t want to consider all the evidence. Back in the psalms, this word is heard at the beginning of Psalm 14, ‘The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ (Psalm 14:1a).

If there is no God, what is left? Well, it is the world and the stuff in the world we can hold onto. The more we have, the more we believe we live the good life. The more we have, the bigger the house, the further away others live because we can set up our fences and control their access to us. The more we have, the more we do what we want, when we want and others have to accommodate themselves to us. The things of this world can blind us to the two inescapable truths of this world when one pauses to consider that 1. our very life is a gift to us – we didn’t create ourselves; and 2. that we are stewards of the stuff, the property, the possessions, the resources we have individually or collectively – call it private property or the country’s resources – because at the end of the day, when we are not here anymore the stuff will go on to someone else. If you replace God with stuff – and note to whom the rich man discussed things with his soul – it was only with himself – then do not be surprised when God turns up. He thought he was his own universe but then the God of the universe turned up and his life was over and what of all his stuff then – that which consumed all his effort and energy – and which took the place of his community? If he had a bumper crop, why could he not have given more to others? Well that all depends on how you see yourself, your life, your possessions, the reason for living, and God.

Covetousness – the selfish desire for stuff – whispers a big lie – it’s yours – you’ve worked for it – you can say ‘it’s mine!’ Covetousness gives us tunnel vision and we lose the perspective that actually everything – even our very lives – are gifts to us. Strictly nothing is ours by right but rather is on loan to us – and even the world knows this when they say at some stage ‘you can’t take it with you’.

We have no idea how the questioner responded to Jesus’ parable or the crowds for that matter. Did they hear the call to be careful of not making this world the sum total of your life, and that filling your life with your desires and forgetting that your life and everything in this world is a gift from God and we are stewards of these gifts? Who knows? We can hope so. 

But we have an idea of how we hear Jesus today in the hurly burly of our life, the ups and downs of our life, amid the joys and frustrations of our life, because we decide each day where Jesus fits in to the day. Do we follow him? Do we want him to do something for us? Do we listen to him or are we just telling him again and again what we need? We’re all different and life is different with its ups and downs but I can assure you that the world is wrong to deny God, that only foolishness exists when you take God out of our reality, and that listening to Jesus, this Son of Man, this crucified and risen One, provides the best orientation for each day and the best way to reflect on each day at night. God has made us to live life to the full with others, in service to others, and we have the things we have to use so that others – those around us – may live well. And it all begins with words – God’s Word to us – about Jesus and life with him – that is his best gift to us – and growing in our relationship with him as he comes to us through words, water, bread and wine keeps orienting us to reality – we live best with others, in service to others, sharing the gifts God gives us. What a great world this would be if we all followed Jesus this way!

 

Bible References

  • Luke 12:13 - 21