I don’t much like tattoos but I know that if I ever get one it’ll be right here on my wrist where I can see it all the time. Know what it’ll say? LET GO, LET GOD. I need to be reminded to let go of thinking that it’s up to me to fix everything and instead, know that God is doing fine without my help. I need to let go of earthy concerns and let God be my greatest concern. As we say in the Lord’s prayer, “thy will, not my will, be done.”
I think that’s what Jesus is trying to get across in this parable about a rich, greedy man who is holding on too tight to his material wealth instead of letting go and being focused on God. This man is already a rich man and now he is going to be even richer. And this rich man thinks it’s all about him, not about God.
So let’s review this story: Jesus is talking to a large, unruly crowd when someone shouts out: “Teacher, make my brother give me a fair share of the family inheritance.” Jesus answers, “Mister, that is not my job!” Then he turns to the crowd, saying; “Take care! Don’t be greedy. Life is not about stuff, even when you have a lot of stuff.”
Then he told them this story: “The farm of a rich man produced a terrific crop. So the rich man said to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest so I guess I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
Just then God shows up and says, ‘You fool! Tonight you are going to die. And your barnful of goods that you’re holding onto? Who gets that?”
Jesus takes a long, hard look at the crowd and says; “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with stuff and not with God.” Just a side note: this is the only time in all of the parables where God speaks up. I just love that the main thing God has to say is, “You Fool! You’re going to die!” Way to get to the point!
Jesus feels pretty strongly about this issue of material wealth. He talks a lot about people with too much worldly wealth, people with the wrong priorities. Think of his words in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal" and "do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Then there is the story in Mark, chapter 10 about the rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to obey the commandments, then says: "go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me". When the young man couldn’t do it, Jesus makes this remark:”Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Matthew chapter 16: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul”?
Matthew chapter 6: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
These lessons can be a little hard to hear. Kevin and I have worked hard to save money for Jeff’s college and for our retirement. Are we like that silly farmer, building large barns to store our abundance? Well, note this: the rich man in the story is not criticized for storing up his treasures; he is criticized for storing up his treasures while not being “rich towards God”. Perhaps the real message of these stories is that we need to keep everything in perspective. Life is fleeting, possessions and money are not the end all. We can spend our lives pursuing wealth or we can spend our lives pursuing God. It’s our choice.
Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”, and he refers to greed as a form of idolatry because we can make false idols of material things. According to Martin Luther, anything that comes between us and our God is idolatry. Wealth and possessions, power and status; these things are the very things that come between us and our God. These things can get in the way of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
St. Augustine once said that God gave us people to love and things to use, and sin, in short, is the confusion of these two things. By this measure, our farmer in the parable is a sinner.
When this rich farmer gets all excited about building huge barns to store his huge crops God calls him a fool and tells him he is going to die that very night. And these huge barns filled with huge crops? He sure can’t take that material wealth with him.
There was a man who had worked all of his life, had saved all of his money, and was a real miser, he held onto every penny. He told his wife, "When I die, I want you to take all my money and put it in the casket with me so I can take it to the afterlife with me."
And so he got his wife to promise him with all of her heart that when he died, she would put all of the money in the casket with him. Well, he died. He was stretched out in the casket, his wife was sitting there in black, and her friend was sitting next to her. When they finished the ceremony, just before the undertakers got ready to close the casket, the wife said, "Wait just a minute!” She came over with a box and put it in the casket. Then the undertakers locked the casket, and they rolled it away.
Her friend said, "Now I know you weren't fool enough to put all that money in there with your husband.” The loyal wife replied, "Listen, I can't go back on my word. I promised him that I would do what he asked." "You mean to tell me you put that money in the casket with him!!!!?" "I sure did," said the wife. "I got all that money together, put it into my checking account and wrote him a check. If he can cash it, he can keep it.
In our parable today, there is something about this rich farmer that bugs me. Did you notice how he talked to himself? His whole conversation is full of the words ‘I’ and ‘my’. Listen again to the conversation he has with himself: “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.’”
He’s pretty self absorbed. He never thinks to thank God for his good fortune, he never thinks that perhaps he could share some of his bounty with people who have less. He is an egocentric man and I’m glad that God calls him a fool! God sets him straight and reminds him that he is not in control. Thy will, not my will, be done.
Let me close with a true story: Alfred Nobel was forced to think about his true life and life’s value. One morning in 1888, Nobel was quite surprised to read his own obituary in a French newspaper. Obviously, it was a journalistic mistake. One of his brothers had died, and a careless reporter had used a prewritten obituary of the wrong man.
But as he read, Nobel was shocked and deeply disturbed to learn what the world really thought of him. He was seen simply as the dynamite king, the merchant of death, who had amassed a great fortune out of explosives. Nobel had hoped his inventions would be useful to people and to nations; yet he was viewed as one who dealt in blood and war for profit.
At that moment, Alfred Nobel resolved to show the world the true purpose of his life. He revised his will so that his fortune would be dedicated to the recognition of great creative achievements – with the highest award going to those who had done the most for world peace. From then on Nobel’s image began to change. Now, more than a century later, we remember him the way he wanted to be remembered. Today, we all associate him with the Nobel Peace Prize.
What do you want to be about? What do you want to be known for? What gives your life meaning? I bet your answer will have nothing to do with your earthly possessions.
The great poet Mary Oliver, asks: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"