Someone in the crowd spoke to Jesus. Someone. It wasn’t Peter or one of the disciples. It wasn’t a Pharisee or an expert in the Law. It wasn’t Mary or Martha. Just someone. In the crowd.
Such anonymity perhaps shows that this voice could have been anyone. Any one of us. Indeed, the words spoken to Jesus here echo a very universal sentiment: “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” We all want what we believe should be ours.
The voice calling out to Jesus from the crowd could be heard as a cry for justice. Perhaps the man was unfairly left out of the will. Or perhaps he was a younger brother protesting the ancient Law that said the oldest brother got a double portion.
There are legitimate cries for justice. But here, Jesus seems to have sensed something different. He doesn’t take up the man’s cause, but rather uses it to do some teaching. And issue a warning.
“Watch out,” said Jesus. “Be on your guard against all covetousness.” Jesus understood the man’s request as simply a grab for money. He knew what was really driving the man. So, he gave him a warning.
We are to hear this warning too. What is it that you’re coveting? Your brother’s inheritance? His house? His wife? His good looks? His nice car?
Coveting is a problem. For all of us. Sometimes we want things we know we shouldn’t have. Sometimes when we want good things, we want them so badly that we get upset when we don’t have them. We begin to covet—that is to fixate, to become troubled, and then to dream and scheme about how we can get them.
Remember Eve? She coveted the forbidden fruit and soon found herself disobeying God’s command. The same thing happens to us.
The opposite of coveting is contentment. That’s the quality that is Godly. That’s the place of health. That’s where we’re supposed to be. God’s people are called to be content.
To teach further on the subject of coveting, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man whose land produced plentifully. The man’s crops were so abundant they no longer fit in his barns. What should he do?
The man decides to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones. That way he can store his great abundance. Seems like reasonable solution.
But God calls the man a fool. Why? The man was a fool because all he could think about was his enjoyment—which he wouldn’t even get to experience, for that night he would die. What’s more, the man was also a fool because he had the opportunity to do Godly things with that abundance and experience true riches, but all he could think about was hoarding what he believed was his.
In the rich man’s short conversation with himself he uses the personal pronouns “I” or “my” twelve times. We know who’s on his mind.
Who’s on yours?
This parable, as straightforward as it is, pokes us in some ways that make us uncomfortable. For instance, we hear the man say: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry,” and we wonder if that’s really so bad.
Doesn’t God want us to have some fun? Can’t we save up for something big? What about retirement? What about leisure? Eating, drinking, being merry… those are good things, right?
But how important to us are they? Do they take our minds away from the things of God? Do they keep us from feeding our souls, which could be required of us at any time?
We probably recognize that our leisure and fun shouldn’t get in the way of God’s greater purposes. But does this parable also suggest that sometimes our security gets in the way too?
Retirement comes with its financial needs, right? Don’t we need to save for these? And what about having money on hand for a rainy day?
Certainly, the Lord understands our need for security. But do we really need as much as we think we do? Do we need “goods laid up for many years?” That line from the text is certainly meant to challenge us.
St. Augustine made a statement about this parable that has been repeated down through the centuries. He said: “The rich man did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.”
Notice that Augustine says “safer.” Not only is sharing with the poor more beautiful and Godlier than hoarding, but it is safer. That’s because true security comes from following the ways of God. God will reward the way of faith.
As Jesus talks about these things, he does so in a way that shows they define our very lives. He says to the man in the crowd: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Regarding that statement, it seems to me that most people today would probably agree with it. I suppose there may still be some who think that the one who dies with the most toys wins, but that sentiment is mostly out of favor these days. “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” – agreed.
What’s still very much up for play, however, is the question of what one’s life does consist of. It may not consist in the abundance of possessions, but then what?
In answering this question, we should remember that while this text of ours today reads primarily as a text of warning, imbedded in the language are also words of promise. These are the words which remind us of the great promises Jesus gives in other texts.
For instance, at the conclusion of this parable, Jesus urges us to be rich toward God. Being rich toward God can be defined as being Godly. That’s the way we’ve used it to this point in the sermon. We should be Godly in the way we treat others. There is a richness in this.
But the phrase certainly means much more as well. In Luke 16, Jesus tells a parable about a dishonest manager. The lesson for us comes as Jesus says: “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”
Being rich toward God means experiencing the true riches. It means being filled with faith. It means believing that we are truly rich—that God has given us the greatest of gifts, such as peace, contentment and joy.
Followers of Jesus believe that our life consists in knowing that God is with us and that he has blessed us abundantly. We are directed by Him and saved by Him.
I mentioned that Jesus gives joy. The rich man in the parable was joyful, we are told, because he could “relax, eat, drink and be merry.” The phrase is meant to contrast a similar phrase from the Old Testament scriptures—one that we read as our first reading today, from Ecclesiastes. In that book, the writer ponders how life is vanity without the promise of God. In chapter two he concludes: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy.”
The rich man in the parable wanted joy in relaxation and merriment. Ecclesiastes points us to the joy found in work.
We all know that there is great joy that comes from working hard and accomplishing something meaningful. The work may not always be so joyful in the times of struggle. In penning my sermons I’m often frustrated by the difficulty of the task. It exposes my weaknesses. It makes me feel inadequate. It makes me wish I could do something with more immediate gratification. Like pulling weeds. Which sometimes I do when I need a break! But, after the effort, with faith in God’s promises, I experience joy. I do! And you experience it in your work too.
Being rich toward God means knowing what God does for us. The man in the crowd wanted Jesus to mediate a dispute, and to take his side. “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus in reply said, “who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”
Jesus was not going to decide such earthly matters. And yet, we who know what God has done for us in Jesus can hear these words in a different light. In reality, Jesus is a judge. Right? He is coming again, as God’s agent, to judge the living and the dead. To use the words of today’s text, he is coming to demand our soul.
This coming of Jesus as judge should give us pause, for we are not innocent. Far from it. We have coveted far too much and far too often. We have sinned in many, many other ways as well.
And yet, Jesus is not only our judge but also our arbitrator. And this is good news because He has arbitrated on our behalf, dealing with the demand on our soul. He did this by offering himself as payment for our sin. Through Jesus’ arbitration, the deal is done. We are forgiven. We are set back upon the path of life.
What’s more, we are also given an inheritance. Jesus our brother has shared the riches of his inheritance with us. His life has won life for us. We will experience the riches of the heavenly inheritance someday. And even now, we experience the riches of the faith inheritance that he gives us in his word.
Someone in the crowd spoke to Jesus. Someone anonymous. Someone very much like you. Jesus spoke to him.
Remember, friends that in the eyes of God, and in the eyes of His people, you are more than just an anonymous someone. You are a redeemed child of God. Jesus has arbitrated your case and won for you a great inheritance. He has taught you that of which life truly consists. He has given you a richness toward God, which helps you then be rich in your relationships with others.
You are someone whom God loves very much. Let this be your joy. Amen.