July 31, 2016

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 12:13-21

Colossians 3:1-11


There was a questionnaire in the US, asking people about what they would be willing to do for $10 million. Here is the result:

25 % said that they would be willing to abandon their entire family.
Another 25 % said that they would be willing to abandon their church.
23% said that they would be willing to become prostitutes for a week or more.
16 % said that they would be willing to give up their American citizenships.
Another 16% said that they would be willing to leave their spouses.
10% said that they would be willing to withhold testimony and let a murderer go free.
7% said that they would be willing to kill a stranger.
3% said that they would be willing to put their children up for adoption.[1]

Friends, we have often heard people say, “Life is not all about money.” But, it seems that there are many people out there, and perhaps some of us here, who are ready to sacrifice those things we deem important in life for the sake of money.

In our Luke reading today, a man approaches Jesus, asking Jesus to help him in a dispute against his brother regarding his family inheritance. Indeed, it was quite common for people to ask a rabbi, like Jesus, to settle a dispute like this one.[2] But, instead of stating who is right and who is wrong, Jesus warns him about greed. In a way, Jesus reminds the man that his relationship with his brother is more important than winning the inheritance.

He then tells a story about a rich man who is a fool in the God’s eyes. Indeed, God calls the rich farmer in his parable ‘a fool’ not because he is wealthy or because he saves for his future, but because he lives for himself. This is reflected in his attitude in the parable: the rich man talks only about and to himself.

I will do this: I will pull 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.’”
(Luke 12:18-19 NRSV)

It’s I, I, and I. It is all about him. It is as if there was no one else in the universe besides him. Everything revolves around him. It is this kind of attitude that Jesus criticizes in his parable. Jesus doesn’t criticize his wealth; he criticizes what he does with his wealth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus doesn’t ask us to suffer or to experience poverty to live a fulfilled life. He does, however, asks us to share what we have, especially when we have more than what we need to live a good life.

Indeed, in ancient Israel, a large or good harvest was meant to be shared with the poor.[3] So, the rich man has done nothing wrong when his land yields good crops. But, instead of sharing his abundance with the poor in the land, he keeps everything for himself. He doesn’t need all the harvest; he won’t become poor by sharing what he has with others, yet he decides to keep all for himself and forgets about other people. This is greed and this is the kind of attitude that Jesus attacks in his parable.

So, the rich man is a fool not because he is rich, but because he depends his security, his well-being, and even the meaning in his life on his wealth. He thinks that his wealth is everything that he needs to have a fulfilled life and he would need nothing else. When the time is over, he has nothing else besides his wealth to cherish; and he leaves this world not only empty handed, but also with empty heart and life.

The rich man is found to be a poor man after all.

An experienced pastor once said, “I have heard many different regrets expressed by people nearing the end of life, but there is one regret I have never heard expressed. I have never heard anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away. I wish I had kept more for myself.’” Indeed, friends, death has a way of clarifying what really matters.[4] And what really matters, at the end of our life, is not how much money that we have or how rich we are, but what kinds of significant relationships that we have.

In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul also reminds his readers about the danger of greed. In his letter, he reminds us that, in baptism, we have died in Christ and now we have been resurrected into a new life in him. The life that we live now is no longer a life that is lived for ourselves, but for Christ. “Christian identity is a matter of being incorporated into the story of Jesus,”[5] one commentator once said. Our story is now a part of Jesus’ story. Our life must reflect Jesus’ life. But, the other way around is also true: Jesus’ story is our story now; his life is our life. Later on, in the same letter, Paul reminds his readers that

“whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17 NRSV) ...”

The final goal of our life is this: Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3: 11).

And Jesus lived his life as someone who always put the need of others first and foremost. His goal in life was to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and he did so not by amassing wealth here on earth, but healing and liberating those in need. His life was so immersed in service to others that he once said,

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head
(Luke 9: 58 - NRSV).”

That’s why Paul asks his readers to put to death all the ‘earthly’ and ‘evil’ things that have tainted our former life. These things do not conform to the kind of life that Jesus lived; the kind of life that we need to aspire to as Christians.

And, one of these ‘earthly’ things that Paul discusses in is letter, which is our focus today, is greed. For Paul greed must be a thing of the past in a Christian life. Let’s hear again the words in Colossians 3:9b–11, this time from The Message translation of the Bible:

“You’re done with that old life.
It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire.
Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe.
Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator,
with his label on it.
All the old fashions are now obsolete.”

Indeed, greed, for Paul, is a form of idolatry. When we are greedy, we worship not God any longer, but our own wealth. When we are greedy, wealth has taken over the place in our life that is supposed to be reserved for God only. When we are greedy, our life will bear the image not of Christ any longer, but of the material things that we worship in life. Greedy lifestyle, not Jesus’ life, will become our story.

So, remember, Christian faith is not against saving for our future need; Christian faith is against greed. If we have more than what we need to live a good life and we fail to share the excess of our wealth, we will become like the rich fool.

I would like to finish this reflection by showing you a video that I watched on YouTube recently. The video is an advertisement for Life Insurance in Thailand, but it has a very good message.

(Watch the video on https://youtu.be/uaWA2GbcnJU)

Indeed, friends, a good and happy life is not about getting more and more money or become wealthier and wealthier; it is about what we do with what we have;  it is about our attitude towards wealth and how do we let it affect our relationship with God and others; it’s about whether our wealth draws us away from God and those significant people in our life, or closer to them.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth, 1991[1] (quoted on http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/g/greed.htm)

[2] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2016 (Biblical Background for July 31 2016)

[3] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2016 (Biblical Background for July 31 2016)

[4] Elisabeth Johnson, Commentary on Luke 12:13-21, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 4 2013)

[5] Brian J. Walsh, Commentary on Colossians 3:1-11, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (July 31 2016)