Luke 12: 13-21
Someone in the crowd asked Jesus to tell the person’s brother to divide the family inheritance with him. This sounds like the story of the prodigal son. There was an inheritance. There was a son/brother who wanted his share of the inheritance before the father died. He got it. The person in the crowd wanted his brother to split the family inheritance with him. He could very well have legal right to it. There could have been other siblings who had rights as well. We don’t know. That’s why it was appropriate for Jesus to say he wasn’t a judge or arbitrator to rule over a dispute concerning an inheritance. Jesus put the focus on where it belonged. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Old Cyrus was the richest man in town. When he became terminally ill, there was much speculation among the villagers concerning the extent of his wealth. And when Cyrus died, one of the town busybodies made it his business to run to the deceased’s lawyer and ask, “How much money did old Cyrus leave?” The lawyer replied, “All of it, my friend, all of it!”
Paul expressed some of the same sentiment to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6: “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (vss 6-10)”
How do you make yourself rich? The guy in the crowd asked Jesus to help him.
Jesus was teaching his disciples and followers in these pages of the gospel of Luke. At the close of Luke 11, while dining at a Pharisees’ home, Jesus responded to the rebuke of his host for not washing before dinner with, “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. (vs 39)” In verse 43, Jesus said, “Woe to you, Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.” To the lawyers of the day, he said, “Woe also to you lawyers. For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. . . Woe to you lawyers. For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering. (vss 46, 52)”
The guy in the crowd was a product of the Pharisees and lawyers. It doesn’t make him like them, but they were the stewards of the revelation from God. They were left with the responsibility to teach the ways of God. They were meant to teach and set examples of what it was to not appreciate greed and the abundance of possessions, but to advance the value of life found in the simple contentment in food and clothing, as Paul would say, and in the pursuit of the will of God being done in loving God with all your heart, mind and strength and loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
How do you make yourself rich? The guy in the crowd wanted Jesus to affirm his wants and desires and to be his advocate against his brother, against his neighbor. At the start of Luke 12, Jesus focused on teaching his disciples about the corruption in the Pharisees. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing in secret that will not become known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind close doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. (vss 2-3)” These same Pharisees are the ones influencing the guy in the crowd wanting Jesus to help him get his share. Jesus’ response was to be on guard against all kinds of greed. How do you make yourself rich? Coercing Jesus to be your advocate? Allowing yourself to be swayed by the hypocrisy of those expecting respect in the marketplace and those loading burdens on the souls of those who can’t bear them?
No one is teaching what Jesus is teaching. No one is setting an example of modesty in life or graciousness and mercy in sharing the love of God and the love for neighbor (all are neighbors). The guy in the crowd is swayed by some kind of greed. Jesus caught him and told him to beware of all kinds of greed. He went on to teach with the parable of the rich fool. The land of a rich man produced abundantly. He thought to himself he needed larger barns. And he would say to himself, “Self, you have plenty stored away. Relax, eat, drink, and be merry!” Then God spoke to him and called him a fool because, unbeknownst to him, he was about to die and who would have all his stuff? There’s a distinction between storing up treasures and being rich toward God. The rich man thought to himself, said to himself and acted only with himself in mind. Who set an example like that for him? God then spoke to him.
In these pages in the gospel of Luke Jesus is teaching his disciples. He is teaching us. Where is our focus and what or who is swaying our desires? Is our conversation about our treasures and our passions more inclined to be an inward dialogue, a justification of our wants and hopes, or a faithful, humble devotion in prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance in how to live?
A rich man named Carl loved to ride his horse through his vast estate to congratulate himself on his wealth. One day on such a ride, he came upon Hans, an old tenant farmer who had sat down to eat his lunch in the shade of a big oak tree. Hans’ head was bowed in prayer. When he looked up, he said, “Oh, excuse me, sir. I didn’t see you. I was giving thanks for my food.” “Humph!” snorted Carl, noticing the meager dark bread and cheese Hans was about to eat. “If that were all I had to eat, I don’t think I would feel like giving thanks.” Hans replied, “Oh, it’s quite sufficient. But it’s remarkable that you’d come by today. Sir, I feel I should tell you; I had a strange dream before I woke this morning.” Carl said, “And what did you dream?” Hans replied, “It seemed there was beauty and peace all around, and yet, I could hear a voice saying, ‘The richest man in the valley will die tonight.'” Carl cried out, “Dreams! Nonsense!” He turned and galloped away. “Lord, have mercy on his soul if he really is to die so soon,” Hans prayed as he watched the landowner ride away. Carl tried his best to forget Hans’ dream, but he couldn’t. Amidst his frustration, he grew sick and worried. He visited a friend who happened to be a doctor. Carl told him the whole story. The doctor said, “Poppycock, but for your peace of mind, let’s examine you.” Afterward, the doctor assured him, “Carl, you’re as strong and healthy as that horse of yours. There’s no way you’re going to die tonight.” Carl thanked him and told him he felt foolish being upset over that old man’s dream. Early the next morning, a messenger came to Carl’s door. “It’s old Hans,” the messenger said. “He died last night in his sleep.”
(Preached at St. Mark UMC in Anniston, AL, July 31, 2022)