Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear 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, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21 ESV)
When there is a lot of food around there usually is a festivity, a celebration, a rejoicing. We quickly learn while growing up what we need food-wise day to day and when there is an abundance, something else is happening – or about to happen – or should happen. The practice of hospitality can sometimes be summarised as ‘fellowship over food’. Such is part of all societies – that the necessities of life build more than our bodies when they are shared – for they build relationships, communities, alliances, friendships.
The harvest table groans with abundance. The visual message is a repetition of the word ‘gift’, ‘gift, ‘gift’. And even things that are manufactured or made, things that are products of human skill and ingenuity, still present the word ‘gift’ to us – perhaps a layered gift, several sheets of wrapping paper – each of which point to other gifts – intelligence, creativity, technology that take gifts from the soil and make something delicious, useful, savoury, nutritious – more gifts.
And what do you do with gifts? Yes, that’s the question. I think it all depends on where you put the emphasis … whose gifts? My gifts! Where does the emphasis go? My or gift?
Jesus is confronted by someone expecting him to act as a Jewish Rabbi and make a judgement on Jewish law. Tell my brother to give me my inheritance! It seems unjust already – and not unusual sadly that families and inheritances can be toxic and yet Jesus doesn’t intervene. Surprisingly. Until we pause and realise that the man didn’t ask for help to reconcile the situation but he wanted a ruling that matched his own judgement. The relationship with brother was already broken and he just wanted the inheritance to finalise the break. That’s why Jesus effectively sends him back to his brother. Relationships before possessions is Jesus’ priority. My brother before my inheritance.
And then Jesus tells the parable of the rich man whose big harvest is a gift which he can’t fit on the table so to speak and what does he do? He gets a bigger table! Whose table? Mine! My grain, my goods, my barns, my soul, my body. This owner, too, has made ruling – I am a body that needs feeding so I can enjoy my life. I don’t care about the other bodies around me and them enjoying their lives. And God calls him a fool. You are not just an intelligent animal but a living body and soul in relationship with others and with God and you have missed the point of living.
The brother wants justice on his own terms. The land owner believes he is his own justice. Both of them build their lives on the little word ‘my’ and ignore the relationships around them. That is the seductive lure of stuff, money, things, assets, lots of food, possessions that you move away from others – distance from neighbours as your property expands, walls get hirer, contact is on your terms which increases isolation and lessens relationships.
Did you notice to whom the rich spoke when making his plans? Not to family; not to relatives; not to workers or business partners; but to himself!
Covetousness – the selfish desire for stuff – whispers a big lie – it’s yours – you’ve worked for it – you can say ‘it’s mine!’ Covetousness gives us tunnel vision and we lose the perspective that actually everything – even our very lives – are gifts to us. Strictly nothing is ours by right but rather is on loan to us – and even the world knows this when they say at some stage ‘you can’t take it with you’.
Our table before us and the reply and then parable of Jesus teach us that life is both ours and also a gift and when it comes to justice – that is how we live together – the emphasis is to not be on ‘my’ but on ‘gift’; not on me but on God.
It seems strange not to grab what you can for yourself and your loved ones. Who knows when things will be stolen or the storm will come? Such fears and temptations can and do come our way. Do we live by what we see or by what we don’t see? And that’s the perspective that seeing things as gifts bring – that we are more than bodies living for now and the quality of our lives should be more than just a full tummy. That is why our identity and meaning in life is always found in relationship to others.
This is not unique to Christians – most worldly wisdom emphasises our need to be in relationships and not enthralled with stuff. But for us as Jesus’ disciples, we see our stuff, we see the person in the mirror as gifts from a Creator God who has gone to incredible lengths to rescue and give life to people when we choose rebellion and being fools and death. We find in this Jesus who made a relationship with us and didn’t hold onto his stuff but gave up everything both a gift and guide about how we should live in our relationships – serving others with the gifts God gives us. No one says this is easy – juggling priorities, allocating resources, and the like – but the foundation when we pause like on a Harvest Sunday is to look again at the table and then look up at the cross and then look around at those nearby and think of others not here but with whom we live – and get the perspective that counts – it is all a gift.
Thank you, God!
- Luke 12:13 - 21