Typically, when we have a lectionary scripture about money, we tie it to some sort of fundraising program for the church, or at least a nod to regular contributions of tithes and offerings. I suppose it’s safer to do that, but it’s pretty apparent this week’s Gospel lection from Luke is about a topic that’s much more squirm-inducing: greed and our human propensity to acquire lots and lots of stuff:
Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 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.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” –Luke 12:13-21 NRSV
If Jesus had been a coach (football, basketball, baseball, you name it) he probably would have started off with this familiar saying: Remember, there’s no “I” in team. Note how the wealthy farmer uses the first person (“I” and “my”) eleven times in this short passage! It’s all about his barns that are too small to hold all of his crops and, in turn, about his future, which while currently pretty comfortable could become even more so. He’s all set for a whole lot of eating, drinking, and merry-making. The lap of luxury. “Poor little me. How am I going to build bigger barns fast enough to hold all the crops my workers are harvesting?”
There’s no thought about paying those workers a decent wage or ensuring their working conditions are safe. Nor is there any concern for their ability to feed themselves and their families, much less to provide shelter and all the other necessities of life. No, the rich farmer is all me, me, me, me.
It’s been noted that this parable is the only one in the entire Bible where God has a direct speaking part. And what is it that God tells the rich farmer: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Notice the choice at the end: You can store up treasures for yourself or you can be “rich toward God.” Those last three words strike me as a very odd saying. What does it mean to be “rich toward God”? No, I don’t think they necessarily mean we should give everything to the church. But just as it’s certainly true that you “can’t take it with you,” I think Jesus is pointing to the same idea that is expressed these days as “paying it forward.” That opens up enormous possibilities for what we do with our treasures, time, and talents.
Jesus might just as well have been asking the crowd back then–and us today!–“What’s in your barn?” Pay attention to all the stuff you’ve worked so hard to buy and that now occupies a treasured place in your life (and here I’m reminded of another old saying: The only difference between a boy and a man is the size of his toys. BTW, girls and women can have “toys,” too. Just saying….).
This lesson applies to individuals, to couples, to families, to entire communities and even to nations. And, oh yes, to churches. I don’t wish to belabor this point. (I broached the topic a few weeks ago of how so many congregations, including my own, love to construct ever bigger and more impressive buildings).
Instead I’ll just bring this to a conclusion with the question posed a bit earlier: What’s in your barn?
*Reprinted from 2013 ForeWords archive