Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But Jesus said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And Jesus said to the crowd, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then Jesus told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And the rich man thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then the rich man said, "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.' But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” The Gospel of our Lord.
What Do You Want? Exploring God’s Way for Your Life
Rabbis in Jesus’ day often served as judges and arbitrators as well as pastors, priests, and teachers. So it is not unusual for someone in the crowd asked Jesus to settle a dispute. But the question is - what did he want? Is he just asking for his fair share? Or… is it something else? Jesus warns the whole crowd - not just him - about the snare of an abundance of possessions.
If that was all the Gospel said today, that would be a good word for us today. In our country and culture, we are inundated by “stuff.” My sister and I have been going through my mother’s estate - and it is easy to become awash in memories with every dish, every picture, every item. So while the memories are wonderful, the stuff can be overwhelming. And I don’t think I’m alone. According to the LA Times, the average American home has 300,000 items. And we keep buying more.
At some point, it becomes too much. I think this is why Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” has become so popular. Kondo urges you to get rid of all of your “stuff” that does not bring you joy. She provides a good antidote to our desire for more and more and more. In response to the question, “What do you want?” Kondo asks, “What brings you joy?”
I like some of Kondo’s methods - I learned from a YouTube video a great way to fold a shirt and store it, for example. I enjoy beautiful clothes and yearn for clean and organized drawers. But for all of the benefits of “tidying up,” I’m not willing to call it “life changing magic.” I want something more from life than just a tidy drawer or even a tidy life. Jesus wants more for you and me too.
Jesus tells a parable - a story with a message. A rich man had a bumper crop. And so he asked himself what he should do? His solution was to build bigger barns and silos so that he could have enough stored up that he could retire.
Growing up in a farm community, I wondered about this parable. After all, wasn’t it a good idea to store your crops? Isn’t it a good idea to prepare for the future?
But Pastor Elizabeth Johnson, a friend of mine who is now a professor, suggests that the problem for the man in the parable isn’t that he is preparing for the future or that he wants to retire or even that he is rich. Instead - as I hope you noticed from the way that I read the Gospel - his attention, his focus - was completely on himself. Did he thank God for the abundant crop? No. Did he think of how he could share the crops with others? No. Did he think of anyone other than himself? Again, the answer is “no.” 1
So what does the man in the parable want? He wants stuff, he wants to be rich, but even more than that, he wants to be in control. The rich man assumes that the one with the most stuff wins and that once he puts aside an abundance of stuff, an abundance of money, and an abundance of resources for himself… then he will be untouchable. He will never have to worry. He will be in control.
Except… he’s not. There was one very important thing that this rich and supposedly “successful” business man had not planned for - his reckoning with God. God said, “ "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” How valuable are those treasures then? What does it matter how big your bank account is? What does it matter what kind of job you have? Or whether your sweaters and shirts are properly folded? Or whether you have lots of stuff?
The rich man in the parable learned what the writer of Ecclesiastes realized, “You can’t take it with you.”
And with that thought, Ecclesiastes begins to despair, “Perfectly pointless” he exclaims. Or, in the traditional translation, “Vanity of Vanities, everything is vanity.” The teacher realizes that everything he worked for, he will have to leave to someone else.
At first the writer of Ecclesiastes thinks that he is so wise that he can see what others cannot and he turns to despair. What’s the point? It’s all vanity - chasing after wind.
But despair, giving up on life, declaring it all hopeless, is another temptation. It’s a temptation that many of us fall into as well. All you have to do is listen to the news. It can get depressing - more gun violence. The one in Texas is by a white nationalist - age 21? What are we teaching our children? Despair can be tempting.
But while the writer of Ecclesiastes first despairs at the temporary, pointless, mortal nature of his life and all he thinks he has worked for, he comes to realize that God has not given him cause for despair. Instead, he sees that he has a reason to rejoice, because he is not in control and God is.
This is what Jesus teaches too. Jesus reminds the crowd - and us - that God is our true security. So instead of searching for security and purpose and joy from stuff, money, or status and instead of giving up and despairing, Jesus invites you into relationship with God. Jesus invites you to let God’s way, God’s vision be what you want.
For when we align our lives towards God’s grace and God’s kingdom instead of our own selfish passing desires, then we find blessing upon blessing - even in the hard times.
For the man in Jesus’ parable, I wonder if realignment could have begun with changing the pronouns, and his focus from I/Me/My to God/s Will/ God’s Way/ God’s fields/ God’s vision. Could the story have had a different ending if he had paused to THANK God for the abundance of gifts he was given; thought about who in his community might have been in need; asked God to instruct his heart, his life, his soul.
Jesus told parables for a purpose - to get people to think outside of their own story to hear God’s message for their life. And that is true today too.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, may God’s way be your way and God’s vision be your vision. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
1Elizabeth Johnson at Working Preacher