Lectionary blog for Aug. 4, 2013
Pentecost 11 — Proper 13
Text: Luke 12:13-21

As we listened to our Gospel lesson, how many of us thought that the words aimed at the rich man were aimed at us? How many of us think of ourselves as rich?

Some years ago economist Robert Heilbroner came up with a little mental exercise to help us see what life is like for one and a half billion people in the world; 1,500 million of God’s beloved children living in what the World Bank calls “extreme poverty.”

  1. Take all the furniture out of your home, except one table and a couple of chairs. Use a blanket and pads for a bed.
  2. Take away all of the clothing except each person’s oldest dress, pants, shirt, blouse and coat. Only one pair of shoes per person.
  3. Empty the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer of all food except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, and a few potatoes, some onions and some dried beans.
  4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
  5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the tool shed.
  6. Move out of your neighborhood into a ghetto of makeshift buildings and mud streets.
  7. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and get rid of all your books. This is no great loss, since none of you can read anyway.
  8. Get rid of TVs, cellphones, computers and all other electronic gizmos. Leave one radio for the entire community.
  9. Move the nearest hospital or clinic to a day’s walk away. Replace the doctor with a midwife.
  10. Throw away all your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans and insurance policies. Your family has $10 of cash hidden in a coffee can.
  11. Give yourselves a few acres to grow crops on, from which you earn $500 a year. Pay a third of that in rent and 10 percent to loan sharks.
  12. Lop 25 years off your life expectancy. (Robert Heilbroner, “The Great Ascent,” Chapter 2, numbers adjusted for inflation)

By this comparison, most of us in this country are the rich people in the world, and it is as rich people that we must listen to Jesus today.

As the text begins, Jesus is out and about, teaching and preaching. Someone in the crowd calls out and asks him to settle a family dispute about inheritance. Well, actually, he doesn’t ask him; he tells Jesus what he wants him to do and what he wants him to say. “Hey, Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” He wants to use Jesus to give religious credibility to his own greediness.

Jesus refuses to be drawn into this family matter and instead warns the man and the crowd (and us), against the dangers of desire, the menace of materialism: “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Then Jesus tells the story of the rich man who just keeps on getting richer. He already has barns, and his barns are already full, and now he has all this other grain. What is he to do with it? He has more than most people, more than he needs. What to do? Well, he decides to build more barns. He decides to stake his future on the accumulation of more stuff. By tearing down his old barns and cashing in his CDs, he refinances and builds new and bigger barns and now he is set!

William Barclay, New Testament professor, says: “For the rich man, it’s all about me. Listen to the pronouns in vs. 17-19. I, I, my, I, I, my, I, my, I, my. The Greek for I is ego. Ego, ego, my, ego, ego, my, ego, my, ego, my.” (The Daily Study Bible)

The rich man thinks he’s got it made, then God comes to him and says, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

Comedian Jack Benny established a character who was famously tight and cheap. He had a routine in which he is held up by a robber demanding, “Your money or your life.” Benny stands there, arms folded, fingers drumming his cheek, for several seconds. The robber demands again, “I said your money or your life; well? Benny puts his arms out in exasperation, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” Sometimes we are like that. We seem caught between the demands of our money or our life, our eternal life.

Jesus repeatedly told us you can’t serve both, but one can serve God through the use of one’s money. Everything we have, right down to the last breath we take, God has given to us. And God’s judgment of us will have little to do with what we have and everything to do with what we have done with it.

God has given us what we have, not for ourselves, but for the benefit of the community and for hospitality to strangers. This is true whether we are talking about our personal, individual goods, or the goods we hold in common as a congregation, as the church.

In his parable, Jesus reminds us that we shall all die someday; it is not a question of if, only of when and how. And at the inevitable moment of our death, all of our accumulated possessions will be worthless to us.

As a matter of fact, our possessions could be worse than worthless to us. If the care and maintenance of our stuff has diverted us from the care and maintenance of our souls, the very things we cherish in this life will have been that which has ruined us for eternity. As Jesus said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

God has made us a part of the rich people of this world. God has placed in our hands all that we are and all that we have. And the question for us today is essentially the same one the robber posed to Jack Benny: “Your money or your life.”

Amen and amen.

Talk back:

  • Can you name all of the treasures you have stored up in this world?
  • Do you think of yourself as rich?
Delmer Chilton
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

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