Sunday 04 August 2013

Bible Book:

"And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’" (v. 15)

Luke 12:13-21 Sunday 4 August 2013


"Your life isn't measured by the abundance of your possessions."It seems like an obvious statement. We know that life is more thanthe things we own. And yet never in human history have so manypeople needed to hear and take on board that message. We live in aworld where hope-destroying, life-threatening poverty infectsbillions of people at one end of the spectrum, and where a similarnumber are striving for bigger homes, more cars, more luxurious andcomfortable lives at the other end. In a Western context, so manyhave been taken in by the fallacy that possessions and money willbring happiness, that they devote their lives to increasing their'quality of life', often at the expense of … real quality of life.Working lives can be so frantic that many in this generation won'treach the retirement they live for: their stressed-out bodies justwon't last that long. If money is meant to bring happiness, whydoes it make you so miserable earning it? Gone are the days ofliving within your means; here is the era of permanent debt,abundant possessions, and the mortgaging of our sanity. Oh, andthis attitude is most probably why our economic structures andsystems are collapsing around us.

That's the context I find myself in. But what about our Biblepassage?

This passage from Luke's Gospel takes place in a very differenteconomic climate. At the start of chapter 12 (Luke12:1) we read of crowds of thousands trampling one another tohear Jesus' words. They were hungry for the wisdom and healing hehad to offer. They were mostly also (like so many societies todayin parts of the world) living from day-to-day with just enough tosurvive, simple homes, nothing in the bank, one spare shirt atbest, no social security, and the prospect of destitution hangingover them - if illness or injury were to fall on the main earner inthe family. In addition, Jesus was supported by several wealthierbenefactors, and there are several examples of richer and moreinfluential people making themselves known to him and seeking hishelp. Such people would have been present in smaller number in thisvibrant and diverse crowd, as well as the influential Phariseeslooking to trip him up. Jesus had just been talking to thosenearest to him about the value of human life in God's eyes - andinstructing them not to be afraid even when his challengingkingdom-message reaches the ears of those who would threaten theirlives (verses 4-7).

Out of the crowd stepped a man seeking justice in a familydispute over the inheritance of some land. For the Jewish people,land was a sacred thing, and an important part of what they saw asGod's covenant relationship with them. It was also essential foreconomic security, where farming was the main source of income. Wedon't know the details of the dispute but (despite there beingplenty about inheritance already given in the Jewish law) Rabbiswere often brought in to adjudicate where there was controversy.Jesus gave an abrupt response - he doesn't see himself as a judgeof petty property squabbles - but he also took the opportunity toengage the crowd further with a parable, lifting hearts and mindsbeyond the material to the eternal.

There was once a man who had lots of land and did well forhimself. So well, in fact, that he couldn't use all the crops heproduced, and had to build bigger barns to save it all up. This washis retirement fund. And like many who long for retirement, hismotto was to be: "Put your feet up. Eat, drink and be merry." Hethought he had it made, but he forgot that life itself is a gift ofthe Sovereign God. In his prosperity and selfishness (notice, it's"my" this and "I" that), he was not "rich toward God" (v. 21).Careful readers of Luke's Gospel would have spotted that, in hisself-indulgence, the man was not "loving his neighbour" like theGood Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), nor was he relying on God forhis "daily bread" as Jesus instructed us to pray (Luke11:1-4).

So God comes into the story and informs the man that he's aboutto die. No long retirement after all. And God inquires: what willhappen to all those stored-up possessions? Who will get them? Theanswer, Jesus is probably implying, is that they'll most likely besquabbled over by his children! The more you leave behind, the morethere is for your descendants to argue about! Maybe the man inverse 13 would be better off finding out what Jesus is really therefor.

To Ponder

  • There is a powerful, life-changing message in Jesus' teachingon personal finances and economics. It is primarily about trustingin God, and not letting worry over material things destroy ourhappiness. How easy is it to ignore it, if the prevailing wind ofsociety is so strong?
  • John Wesley summarised his attitude toward money like this:"Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can" (with theemphasis being on the latter, as the purpose behind the first two).How would you summarise the attitudes to money in your life, yourfamily, or your society?
  • What are you looking forward to about retirement? And (ifyou're already retired) is it as good as you thought it would be?What are the really important things in life, whether you'reworking or not?
  • What do our churches have to offer those who are in seriouseconomic hardship today?
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