First Mennonite Church
May 11, 2014
An Interrupted Plan
Text: Luke 12: 13-21
In a way, our passage for today will pick up some of the topics we have talked about in the last two presentations. Let us read Luke 12:13-21.
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry he had already taught about the dangers of riches. In Luke chapter 9, verse 25, Jesus asked, what does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Matthew’s version says: What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit (his) soul? (Matt. 8:36)
Through the parable of the foolish rich man, Jesus once more reiterated the dangers surrounding wealth. It all began when a man from the crowd came to ask Jesus to serve as judge between this man and his brother regarding an inheritance.
Someone said, “It seems there is always a greedy one in the family who does not want to play by the rules.” This was in response to a situation where two sisters were fighting over the belongings of their parents. The mother had died but the father was still alive. One of the sisters had taken things she said their mother had said would be for this sister. She entered the house and ransacked it looking for a wedding ring. She had also taken out pieces of furniture from the house. The two sisters were engaged in a battle for what was left, while their father was still alive.
According to our passage for today, the problem of children fighting over inheritance is an old one. Jesus had just been saying that there is nothing hidden that will not be made public or anything said in the dark that will not be heard in the light or what is whispered behind closed doors that will not be proclaimed from the housetops (Luke 12:3).
As Jesus continued with his teaching, someone from among the crowd approached him with a request: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It is obvious that “family conversations” did not take place in the family of this man. Although the Levitical law is very specific on how to divide inheritance, there were still some unresolved issues in the family of this man. The rich man saw Jesus as a common rabbi who would help resolve an issue of interpretation regarding succession of material things from parents to children. This man wanted Jesus to side with him against his brother. But Jesus refused to be dragged into that matter. And He issued a warning: Beware! “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” This warning is especially important for everyone living in a time and context where we are made to believe that our lives depend on an abundance of wealth. Jesus did not come to give property to men, but came that men may find God, the Giver of all things. Jesus was not against having property, but was against greed that often comes as a result of having much property.
Then Jesus took the opportunity to advance his teaching on the dangers of material wealth. He told them a parable.
“The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years….”’
Good crops are considered blessings from God…then and today. And Jesus does not say anything contrary to that understanding. This man’s field had yielded an over-abundant crop, more than it used to or what the man’s barns were capable of holding. That abundant crop posed a dilemma to the rich man. And here is an interesting teaching tool Jesus used: he revealed to his hearers the inner thoughts of the man. The man said to himself: “What shall I do with this good fortune of mine?” Most naturally, he must have prepared for harvest, but the bounty of his crop exceeded his calculations. So far, there was nothing wrong about the abundant harvest or with the question he was asking himself. God demands prudence and fidelity on all that he gives us. Abundance also requires that one prepares for famine and lean times—the principle Joseph applied when he was governor of Egypt (Gen. 41:35-36). In Joseph’s view, abundance is a blessing from God to preserve life, not only of the producer but of those around. That was how God provided for Jacob and his family.
But the direction the rich man was about to take was the main issue Jesus wanted to point out in his teaching.
A Self-centered life
The man said, “This I will do…”
I will tear down my barns
(I will) build bigger ones
I will store my surplus grain
I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty– for many years.
Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
Alongside the self-centered view of his action in the repeated phrase “I will do this and that,” this man revealed his selfish view about possessions in the phrases, my barns, my surplus, and say to my soul. Jesus revealed the inner self of this man and stripped away all pretense of consciousness for the needs of others or of public view about himself. He did not care for others in terms of their needs and much less on what they might think of him. What he whispered in his heart was made known by Jesus to his listeners. Jesus revealed the crudeness of this man’s heart regarding material wealth.
We should be reminded that God knows our thoughts. He knows the intentions we have about our future and how we plan to achieve them. The general rule of thumb is work hard and then play hard also. Work, work, work and save, save, save, people say. And so we wake up early in the morning and go to the “grind,” as people say. We make calculations about our earnings, savings, expenses, and retirement. We hope all goes as planned and look forward to a good retirement.
There is another rule of thumb—the Christian rule of thumb: work as if life depends on you and trust in God as if your life depends wholly on Him. Keeping the balance on this rule is the difficult part for us Christians. It is much easier to do the first part and that is what so often we do or try to do.
Not too long ago I quoted Craddock and Smith who wrote: When a terminal diagnosis is given, the worldview of that person is contradicted. It was not until God spoke that the man was interrupted in his thoughts and plans. The rich man’s worldview was contradicted that night. Just as soon as the rich man had charted his future: “You have plenty– for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” God spoke to him. The news God gave this man was not good. God said, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ While the man was thinking and planning about his future and what he would do with his abundant wealth, God spoke to him about the present. This very night, tonight, your life will be demanded from you.
This text should remind us about our own devices. Each day is consumed with things we believe we must take care of. Each of our days is scheduled to the hour down to the minute. Each of our days is already full before we even start it. And what we often count on is the future, believing it will be different. Thus we say, “When our children grow and move out, then we will have more time. When we retire, then we won’t be tied to a suffocating schedule. When the busy time of the year is over, then we can relax a little more.” But the busyness of now and the more relaxed time in the future is not the only deceit we embrace. We are also taught that “to bad news give a good face.” I wonder if this is also a saying in English. In Spanish it goes like this: a la mala noticia, dale buena cara! In practice, this saying in the American culture goes a little more than giving a good face to bad news. Here we are asked to give bad news a stone face. It is expected that people confront bad news.
Pastor Jim was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. All his life pastor Jim had been an avid cycler. The church did not want to accept the doctor’s prognosis that Jim had only a few weeks to live. The church prayed for his recovery and openly said they would beat the disease and have the pastor doing what he loved to do. They bought him a new and expensive bicycle. Before the worship service started the Sunday of the same week he died, some church members presented Pastor Jim his new bicycle with shouts of praise and encouragement to him. By this Sunday, it was obvious Jim was very ill. He even fainted during the service and the church had to call 911.
Dear friends, you have heard inspirational stories in which people who had suffered setbacks such as illnesses or accidents put forward a stone face to their situation and that got them doing things they had never done before when they were whole and healthy. But that is not always the case. Life has situations where it is not only confronted but also truncated. And we must know how to acknowledge when the end is coming.
The danger of not acknowledging the imminence of death does greater hurt than good to the families of the dying person. Failing to acknowledge when someone is dying prevents the family from really giving closure to a life within that family. False hopes of healing and recovery cause more pain and disappointment because the family of the dying person is not allowed the freedom to talk about issues when it is still possible to do so. Again, when false hope of healing and recovery is given to a family about its dying loved one, anyone with a realistic assessment of the situation can be criticized as not having faith or as being negative.
On the theme of dying, let me close with a few words about the parable of our passage.
Let us not wait until God interrupts our plan to realize that there is more to life than the pursuit of material wealth.
Look into the eyes of your loved ones and tell them you love them more than anything else. And show them your love and attention.
Make every attempt to live a simple life. Jesus tells us that it is a lie to believe that “whoever has the most toys when he dies wins.” God also asks us that piercing question: Who will get all what you have prepared for yourself?
Let us not allow our professions and jobs to be what give meaning to our lives. This can lead not only to idolatry, but this way of thinking can also drain our lives of meaning when the time comes that we cannot carry on with that profession or do the work we used to. We should allow God to be the One who gives meaning to our lives. Work must be a way we serve Him and others and material wealth should also be our servant, not our master.
. Cobb, Dying Soul, 56 (cited by Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith and Joy V. Goldsmith, Speaking of Dying, (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012) p. 53.