A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Me, My, and Mine: A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 12:13-21

Concrete Stave SilosLuke 12:13-21

It's a bumper sticker that has been around for a long time: "The one who dies with the most toys wins." Judging from this parable of Jesus, the one who dies with the most toys actually loses.

Land was very important to Jews in first century Israel not only for economic reasons, but for religious reasons as well. Every first century Jew believed the land in which they were living was given to them by God. The covenant with Abraham was inextricably tied to the land, which is what made the exile several centuries before even more devastating. It was bad enough losing one's homeland, but it was homeland which signified that Israel was indeed the people of God. So, when the man in the crowd implores Jesus to advocate for him in a land dispute with his brother, economics and religion are involved.

But Jesus is not about to get drawn into such an argument. Rather, he uses the occasion to warn against greed; for it is greed that forgets that blessings are for the purpose of being a blessing, just as Abraham's blessing of the land and his descendants was for the purpose of blessing all the nations of the world.

Ambrose of Milan said that greed tempts virtue, and that is Jesus' point in the parable. The man in the parable had a bumper crop one season. It was so large he had no place to store his harvest. Of the man Jesus says,
And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" Then he 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."
He thinks only of himself and about himself and he only addresses himself. He does not consider asking the elders of the village what he might do with his good fortune for the sake of the village. He does not consider how the sacred law, the Torah, might guide him in deciding what to do with what he has reaped. He seeks no wisdom outside of himself. For this man it is all about the self-centered "I." The problem is not his good fortune; it's his focus on himself and his fortune for himself. But as a Jew, he was under that sacred law and the law nowhere says that greed is good. In fact, as part of God's chosen people he was chosen to live in accordance with God's law. Tom Wright observes,
When he [Jesus] speaks of "treasure in heaven", here and elsewhere, this doesn't mean treasure that you will only possess after death. "Heaven" is God's sphere of created reality, which, as the Lord's Prayer suggests, will one day colonize 'earth', our sphere, completely. What matters is that the kingdom of God is bringing the values and priorities of God himself to bear on the greed and anxiety of the world. Those who welcome Jesus and his kingdom-message must learn to abandon the latter and live by the former.
The problem was not the abundance of blessing the man received; it was the scarcity of blessings he was willing to offer others in thanksgiving for what God had given to him. If there is blessing to be received, it is for the purpose of blessing others in the name of that same Lord who gives all things.

One more thing must be mentioned. The God of Israel is not a distant and aloof deity unconcerned with the world he has made. Jesus was no first-century deist. God is intimately involved and ever watchful, which is why Jesus reminds his hearers immediately after this parable that they are not to fret over their daily needs and trust in God. The rich landowner failed to take God at God's word. He treated God as an absentee landlord, and in so doing believed his bigger barns were necessary. Perhaps he too was an absentee landlord unconcerned for the welfare of his laborers. Perhaps he had made God in his own image and after his own likeness.

But that very night, when he met God face to face, he would discover the one true God in which he failed to trust. He died with the most toys, but he did not win.

Not only can we not take it with us, if we follow Jesus he expects us to do rightly with it while on this planet. Jesus wants our blessings to be a blessing to others so that we might bring a little bit of heaven to earth.

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