Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Two main characters appear in today’s passage: the brother in the crowd asking for his share of the inheritance, and the rich man of Jesus’ parable.
Immersing myself in the story, I find myself taken aback. The man asking about inheritance doesn’t strike me as out of line. His backstory isn’t shared with us, but inheritance is a long-standing and widely held tradition. Wanting what was legally his does not sound terrible to me.
But then we come to Jesus’ story of the rich man, building bigger and bigger barns. Here is a greedy villain for sure. And yet, as I read closely, I noticed that he had such abundant crops that there was no place to store the grain in his old barns. What should he have done? Was he wrong to build more? I can’t imagine I know a single farmer, business owner, or Lego collector who wouldn’t do the same thing. After all, we buy bigger cars, houses, dressers, and storage units to contain our own abundance.
Was the underlying problem in both men the urge to live off their savings and take it easy? If so, we’re in trouble yet again, for this is the American adult’s primary goal: work hard, save enough to retire, and enjoy life. We store the abundance in a 401k rather than barns, but the goal is the same—build more than enough and relax.
I can hear the urgency in Jesus’ tone when He warns us: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions…This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
I’d love to ask Jesus exactly what He meant in this passage, and what it means for me. What would it look like for either man to fully trust God in this story?
For now, let’s reflect on these words from N.T. Wright:
As with so much of his teaching, what Jesus says here goes to the heart of the way we are. To inhale a bracing lungfull of his good sense is health-giving at every level. But…this wasn’t just good advice on how to live a happy, carefree life. This was a challenge to the very center of his world. (Luke for Everyone, pg 152)
Questions for reflection and discussion: Is your trust in your accumulation of resources or in God? Is there a difference? If so, what is the difference? What does this have to do with generosity?
Church Bible Reading Plan: 2 Samuel 8-9; 2 Corinthians 2