Luke 12.13-21 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And 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.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then 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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But 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?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
The land of the rich man “produced abundantly.” If he was an honorable man, he would realize his abundance was pure gift and he would harvest and liberally distribute this abundance to his community. The notion of “pulling down his barns and building a larger one” to stockpile his grains for the future was anathema to the community spirit, the social consciousness of the time. No doubt this is why “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?””
Now let me be perfectly clear. Jesus is telling this story to folks who are considered rich. He is not preaching to peasants whose sincere concern is acquiring adequate food or shelter. Jesus is chastising the people who have prospered for failing to give generously from their abundance. He chides them for being rich in their relationship with possessions at the expense of being rich in relationship with God.
Which brings us face to face with the question, What does it mean to be “rich toward God”? I believe in our time it means counting our riches as being the depth and breath of our relationship with God rather than the size of our of our salaries, pensions or portfolios. I believe being rich toward God means affirming, “All that I am and all that I have is pure gift of God. If I have a reasonable intellect, it is of God. If I have am able-bodied and unimpaired, it is of God. If I am successful in my social, personal or business endeavors, it is of God. Being rich does not consist of a bulging house, a storage unit, and a many figured bank account. Being rich is knowing God in and of, with and for all that I am and all that I have.
In the Second Letter to the Corinthians Paul is trying to inspire the people of the church in Corinth to be generous and so he writes, “…the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor 7.6-8)
When we apprehend that God is our riches, our true wealth and treasure, then we realize life is not a zero sum game. The more freely we give, the more bountifully we reap.
Recall Jesus’ instructions to the disciples and us, “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9.23-24) We are meant to give ourselves away in gratitude to God for the good of one another. In so doing we encounter the enigma, in our emptiness we are full, but in our fullness we are empty.
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