Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – August 4, 2019 – Luke 12:13-21 – Christ Church, Alto
I’ve always thought this was one of Jesus’ more straightforward parables.
Thinking only of himself and his future, a rich man stores up treasures on earth. Then, when he dies suddenly, God calls him a fool and asks, “The things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
The parable does not provide an answer to the question. Perhaps the question is rhetorical, or perhaps the author means for us to answer it.
Let’s do! Who’s will those things be? No one’s, right? At the very least, it’s not clear—and that’s a problem! No one wants to die, leaving all their possessions in limbo.
Perhaps his servants will go through his things, taking what they want. Maybe folks will come from all around to forage through his belongings before his next of kin have a chance to take an inventory. It reminds me of the scene in A Christmas Carol when the looters comb through Scrooge’s house before his body is even in the ground.
While whose this man’s possessions will be is not clear, one thing is: he can’t take them with him! What’s more, he’s made no provision to pass them on—to anyone!
You and I are encouraged to make provisions for our material possessions. On page 445 of the Book of Common Prayer we are reminded to plan for the disposal of our temporal goods. It’s part of providing for our families, the church, and those on the margins of society. That’s precisely what this guy didn’t do!
It’s not that he was inherently evil. It’s not that he was inherently hard-hearted or mean-spirited. It’s just that he was, well, exactly what God called him: foolish! He was foolish because he thought only of himself. He provided only for his own future. He planned on living a long time, being content and well-provided for.
To a certain degree, that’s what we all want—health and happiness, especially in retirement. We want to enjoy our lives free from anxiety about money. There are financial advisors—yes, even ethical ones!—whose business it is to help us do just that.
It’s not a bad thing to plan for your future, but it can be a foolish thing if you think only of yourself, making no provision for others.
The rich man was, as some might say, “#blessed.” He was privileged, made rich by the land, the seed, the rain, and likely the work of many servants. Yet he saw no need to “pay it forward,” to pass his blessings on to others less fortunate.
The primary lesson of the parable is simple: think of others—particularly those in need. Think of those who are experiencing homelessness, poverty, sickness, hunger, mental illness, and addiction. Then, serve them!
At first blush we might think that this parable applies only to the richest among us. We are tempted to think that, because we don’t have large store houses of food, massive bank accounts, or well-diversified stock portfolios, we don’t have as big of a role to play in helping others. That’s simply not so.
It’s true, Jesus told this parable in a certain context, to a man chiefly concerned with his inheritance. While most of God’s children don’t get an inheritance at all—at least not a monetary one—we can all still do our part to help those less fortunate than us.
Far too many people on this earth, in this country, and even in this county, go to bed hungry. (And some don’t even have a bed.) Jesus calls all of us to help them, no matter how much money we make.
It’s no secret that in the United States a relatively small number of God’s children control most of the country’s wealth. Their access to wealth gives them extraordinary power, and yes, they should set an example by helping the less fortunate, but that doesn’t mean it’s not our job, too.
Sometimes our instinct is to ridicule and revile people of wealth, but I don’t think that’s what God has in mind. Notice in the parable that God’s judgement is not damnation. God doesn’t cast the rich man into the fires of hell. There is no mention of a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
God calls the rich man a fool, but that’s not the same as condemnation. God’s just being honest, and in so doing God gives the man an education. That’s surely a sign that even the most foolish among us are capable of learning this lesson. Let’s go teach it!
We’ve all got to do our part. You may not be able to stroke a six-figure check to endow a food bank or eliminate medical debt or cover tuition expenses, but you can do something to support people in need.
You can volunteer our time. You can donate money, food, clothes, and household items. And you can always follow God’s example of being loving and compassionate, even to those who you don’t think deserve it.
Has a person ever asked you for money while you’re walking down the street, or while you’re pumping gas, or as you’re hurrying across the parking lot? It’s very possible that you did not have any to give them. That’s okay. In the future the important thing is to ask yourself what you can do to help them.
Treat them like a human being. Look them in the eye. Pray with them. Point them in the direction of someone or someplace that has the resources they need. Wish them well (and mean it when you do).
But be forewarned: these things may become a habit!