For several weeks we have been hearing about Jesus after He had set His face to go to Jerusalem. He did not travel to Jerusalem in a hurried fashion. Instead, He took time in every town and village to heal the sick, drive out demons, and proclaim the Kingdom of God. Today’s Gospel is the record of one more event in the life of Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem to keep His appointment with the cross.
As we continue to hear the account of Jesus’ journey to the cross, a member of the crowd made a request of Jesus. Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13)
This request sticks out like a sore thumb. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the reason Jesus walked this earth. You can work your way clear back to the beginning of the Gospel according to Luke. In fact, you can check out all four accounts of the Gospel and you will not once hear Jesus even hint that He was interested in adjudicating the distribution of an estate. What in the world prompted this person to make this request of the Lord? Jesus responded to this man by making it clear that settling an estate was not part of His vocation. He said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14)
This confusion about Jesus’ vocation gave Him a teaching opportunity. Jesus began to teach about the danger of basing your self-image on your stuff. He addressed the entire crowd and said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Jesus warned against basing your identity … or anyone’s identity … on possessions. Your wealth or lack of wealth does not define who you are. Jesus warned against basing who you are on what you have.
Jesus then went on to tell a story that demonstrated the foolishness of trusting in the wealth of this world. Jesus asked the crowd to imagine a man of worldly wealth. He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.” (Luke 12:16) In more modern terms, think of not just one, but many seasons of bumper crops and favorable markets. The Lord God has blessed this man so that he never has to lift a finger to support himself for the rest of his life. He is independently wealthy.
God blesses many people with wealth. That is not the problem. There is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself. The problem is what to do with all this wealth. In his explanation to the fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther taught, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Did the wealthy landowner realize that all his wealth came from God? Did he receive his wealth with thanksgiving?
The problem was not with the wealth, but with the attitude. Notice the self-centered nature of the man’s decision making process. Does he consult with family or friends? Does he pray to God for wisdom? Notice that the man is profoundly alone with himself. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And 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. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ (Luke 12:17–19) This man’s worldview was all about himself.
The Large Catechism is a collection of Martin Luther’s sermons on the chief articles of the faith. In his sermon about the First Commandment, Luther preached, “It is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.”
In the parable that Jesus told, the man’s heart relied and depended on his earthly wealth. His earthly wealth was the god that he worshipped. The sad thing is that earthly wealth has no eternal value. The man in the parable learned this the hard way. The true God came to him and said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20) This man relied and depended on his earthly wealth as his god, but his earthly wealth could do nothing for him at the time of his death.
How sad it is that this man did not learn from the experiences of Solomon. Solomon had the kind of wealth that it takes to experiment with all the life styles of the world. Even pagan cultures have stories about the wealth of Solomon. The Bible tells us that Solomon the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. (2 Chronicles 1:15) What did his experiences teach him?
Solomon recorded his findings in the book of Ecclesiastes. In this book, Solomon carefully documents his experiments with every life style possible. He tried wine, women, and song. He tried hard work. He tried hard play. He tried travel. He tried education. If you can think of a lifestyle, he tried it.
Ecclesiastes turns out to be one of the most depressing books of the Bible. It is depressing because Solomon asks us to follow John Lennon’s advice and imagine there’s no heaven. Unlike John Lennon, Solomon found that our lives are pointless if this world is all that there is. At one point in the book, Solomon tells us that it is better not to be born if this life is all there is. By actually examining the possibility of life without heaven, Ecclesiastes teaches us that such an existence would ultimately be miserable and depressing.
Solomon’s summary is this, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:14) Ecclesiastes teaches us that without God there is no meaning to life.
Solomon and many other wise philosophers have condemned the greedy pursuit of wealth. Never the less, many people have made the pursuit of wealth the sum and substance of life. The problem with this attitude is that wealth takes the place of God. Material wealth becomes an idol that stands between God and the sinner.
Note that the problem is not the wealth itself. Jesus had many disciples who were wealthy. The Magi from the east had the means to offer Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Joseph of Arimethea who loaned his tomb to Jesus had the means to construct a tomb for himself in the honored real estate near Jerusalem. Lydia, one of the early disciples in Philippi and Mary the mother of Mark the Gospel writer were wealthy patrons of the church. Wealth itself is not the problem. The problem is letting wealth become a substitute for God. It is making wealth the source of our security and comfort. It is forgetting that wealth, like everything else, is a gift from God and not a god in its own right. The sin is not in the money, but in the attitude toward the money.
Jesus speaks this story to all of us even if we are not wealthy. Jesus said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) One of the saddest tragedies on this earth is the person who spends money he doesn’t have on things he doesn’t need because he thinks it will make him a better person. Jesus warns us whether we are on welfare, middle income, or upper class, that the love of money can destroy our souls. This means that rich and poor alike can be fools about money. The rich can be slaves to the money and other things they have. The poor can be slaves to the money and other things they want. People in all classes can see money and things as the salvation from their problems.
With God there is meaning, there is worth, there is salvation, but the treasure of Heaven is not like the treasure of this earth. God revealed Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ and Jesus has his own economy. Although He is the creator and owner of all things, He lived among us as a poor person. Although He has all authority in heaven and earth, He lived under the authority of the law. Although He has all power, He made Himself helpless and submitted to the punishment we deserved as He suffered and died on the cross. Although forgiveness, life, and salvation are worth more than we could ever pay, Jesus, in His love, offers them to us as a free gift. Although Jesus deserves our unending service, it is His desire to lovingly serve us. It is Jesus who makes us rich toward God.
Jesus closed the sad story in today’s Gospel with these words, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) Here first of all is condemnation. If we spend our lives getting ahead so that God and religion become a nuisance, the end is eternal damnation. But the reverse of these words is also true and gives us sweet hope. When the Holy Spirit plants the gift of faith in us, we will see that the treasures of this earth are nothing and that God is the true treasure. We will inherit everything God has to offer. We will hear the blessed words of Jesus, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.