By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
August 1, 2010
Read: Luke 12:13-21
So our scripture passage from Luke begins with someone in the crowd saying to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” This ‘someone’ is asking Jesus to essentially be the judge or arbitrator over a family dispute. And Jesus warns them to be “on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”.
Jesus could have settled, or judged, this dispute. He might have actually convinced the brother to divide the property and therefore solve the immediate problem. But the larger problem, whatever is wrong between these two brothers, would remain wrong between the two. Whatever led them to inheritance division troubles is symptomatic of a deeper problem.
Perhaps this passage is all about relationship. In order to have a great relationship one must spend quality time getting to know all about the other – their nature, their reliability, their character, etc. The more time spent, the more knowledge gained, then the deeper and more intimate the relationship.
Some people tend to focus on money, possessions – either the abundance or lack thereof. It can become consuming. The primary relationship is with their money/their possessions. They know all about it. They think about it all the time. But that kind of relationship brings nothing to the table in the end. Money or possessions can lead people way off course. Jesus is saying that we can’t rely on stuff to bring fulfillment and satisfaction. That relationship, with money or possessions, only leaves people with wanting more and more. Only God can fill all the voids in our hearts.
Here’s another example – the Russian writer Tolstoy told the story of Martin. It goes something like this:
Martin had a small farm of 30 acres. He grew vegetables, which he and his wife sold at the local market. The man worked at a factory by day and farmed early in the morning and on weekends. As Martin and his wife ate and talked in the evening, she would often remark, “Martin, we are so fortunate. Our vegetables grow so well, and people buy everything we grow.”
But Martin was not satisfied. “I do not have enough land,” he would complain. “If I had more land, I could quit my job in town and farm full time.”
Not long after one such lament, Martin borrowed enough money to purchase 30 more acres adjacent to his property. He kept working in town to pay off the loan, and worked far into the night on his land. When Martin returned home, his wife would say, “Martin, God has been good to us. Our fields produce abundantly, and people still buy everything we grow.
But Martin still didn’t think he had enough land. He wanted to expand his vegetable business to neighboring towns. Soon, he purchased an additional 140 acres, and was able to quit his job in town and deliver produce to markets in three neighboring towns. His wife worked long and hard at his side, but there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. Yet there was still a high demand for the delicious vegetables Martin and his wife grew.
But Martin, as you might guess, was still not satisfied, still didn’t think he had enough land. So he purchased another 250 acres of land, because Martin was convinced—as he told his wife repeatedly—“the real money is in selling to the big chain markets.”
Martin began to earn that real money, with both he and his wife working almost around the clock. But guess what? That’s right—Martin wanted still more land, in the south where the climate was different, so he could grow a greater variety of crops.
So Martin bought more land, and worked very, very hard. The crops were growing, and people were buying, and Martin and his wife became extremely wealthy.
Suddenly, though, after a long, hard weekend of work, Martin suffered a severe heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital, but nothing could be done for him. Martin died.
Martin was buried in a small cemetery plot: seven feet long, four feet wide, and six feet deep.
Land enough for a man.[i] Adapted from Tolstoy’s story, Land Enough for a Man, in Speaking in Stories, p.p. 112-13.
Money or possessions can lead people way off course. On the other hand, if we’re consumed with God, if our time is spent building intimacy with God, we’ll have more than we need to fulfill our purpose here and have treasure built up in heaven where it counts. People are treasure. Possessions are not.
Once there was a man who dreamed of nothing but gold. He was obsessed with it. Morning, noon, and night, he dreamt of gold. One day, overcome by his obsession, he got up from his desk and ran to the marketplace. He ran through the crowd to a table where a man was selling gold coins. He swept them all into a small bag, and ran off.
A police officer was standing right next to the table, and he chased the man and arrested him. After hauling him to jail and seeing him locked up, the officer said to the suspect, “I can’t understand it. There you are, with me right next to the merchant’s table and at least 100 witnesses, and you steal something right in front of us all!” The thief replied, “I never saw you or anyone else. I only saw the gold.”
The man in the parable Jesus tells us is only concerned with himself. He speaks to himself. He plans for his own future. He congratulates himself. He never consults with a wife or children or a friend or a barber. He never offers a prayer of thanksgiving or asks God for wisdom.
Unlike Joseph, remember the story of Joseph (the coat of many colors, the brothers who thought they had killed him) and who stored grain in years of abundance to provide for the nation in years of famine. So, unlike Joseph, this man in our passage today stores grain only for his own enjoyment. He is a fool, Jesus says, because he thinks he is in control of his possessions when in fact his possessions are in control of him! Much like what happened in our story about Martin. The land controlled Martin.
The irony of wealth is that when we become less possessive of what we have, our possessions lose their control over us. And when we are in control of our possessions we become more generous because we realize the truth that we actually own nothing – we are merely stewards of what God has given to us.
May we all be rich toward God. Amen.
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