“Consider the Lilies” Colchester Federated Church, March 14, 2021, Fourth Sunday in Lent (Luke 12:13-34), Reflections on the Heart Sermon Series

As we continue on with our Reflections on the Heart Sermon Series, today we heard the “Parable of the Rich Fool”, the “Warning against greed”, and the “Warning about worry” found in the Gospel according to Luke.  Jesus tells this parable in response to someone in the crowd asking Jesus to tell that person’s brother that he must divide the family inheritance with them.  Jesus answers that request by asking who appointed him to be a judge or referee?  Jesus says, “Watch out!  Guard yourself against all kinds of greed.  After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.”[1]  To further clarify, Jesus launches into the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Jesus tells the crowd a story—there’s a rich man who has land that’s producing abundantly during a time of harvest.  The man wonders what he should do about this abundance, thinking that he should pull down his barns and build larger ones.  In those larger barns he will store all his grain and goods.  The man will say to himself, “You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years.  Take it easy!  Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.”[2]  But God ends up saying, “Fool, tonight you will die.  Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?”[3]  Jesus concludes the lesson by telling the crowds gathered before him that this is how it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.

This isn’t exactly an easy parable to interpret.  Because it seems that the rich man doesn’t act in totally egregious and greedy ways.  He’s not a total greedy zebra.  In many ways, he’s being responsible with his land and resources.  This is someone who seems to work hard and have land that produces in abundance.  It takes hard work to farm.  So the man is working, planning, and saving for the future—seeking to protect his belongings.  In so doing, he says to himself that he has goods stored up that will last for many years, and now he can take it easy—eat, drink, and be merry. 

This way of life seems better than some alternatives.  This is a man who is working, planning, and saving.  He could have been reckless with his resources, wasting them in “dissolute living” like the Prodigal Son.  He could have not cared about anyone who may depend on him and just not saved at all, living for the moment with no thought to times that could get harder (future famines for instance when the land wouldn’t be producing abundantly through no fault of his own.)  The rich man also could have just taken it easy.  He could have let that land lie fallow and produce nothing for anybody.  Thus, the alternative ways could have been wasting resources, failing to plan for the future, and laziness.  The rich man doesn’t do any of those things.

So why is Jesus so hard on him—hard enough to refer to him as the Rich Fool?  It’s because the man appears to be consumed by his possessions.  The very meaning and value of his life depends on those possessions.  New Testament Professor Arland Hultgren relates that, “The man and his possessions are so intimately tied together that they are inseparable.  In English translation the personal pronoun ‘I’ shows up six times and the possessive ‘my’ five times (‘my crops,’ ‘my barns,’ ‘my grain,’ ‘my goods,’ and ‘my soul’) in the six verses of the parable.”[4]  The rich fool’s identity is tied up with the things he owns.  The man is driven by acquiring those possessions, status, and achievements to the exclusion of other pursuits.

Because of that, the rich fool can easily end up not paying attention to the calls of God and the needs of his neighbor.  He’s placing all his trust and faith in those temporary possessions as opposed to the permanent grace of God.  We can remember that Jesus ended the parable by comparing a person who stores up treasures for themselves vs. someone who is rich toward God.  A person who doesn’t just turn inward but looks out toward God’s good world and fellow children of God.  “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”[5]

Jesus is reminding us in this story that it’s foolish to invest everything we have and everything we are in material possessions.  Because material possessions don’t last anyway.  As soon as we drive our brand-new car off the lot at the dealership that car loses value.  I once bought a brand-new smart phone and accidentally dropped it on a concrete sidewalk on the third day I had it and cracked the screen terribly.  Welp, there went the value of my new fancy phone.  Investing everything we have and everything we are in the latest and greatest material possessions isn’t going to make our lives more meaningful.

Years ago Mitch Albom wrote the bestselling book Tuesdays with Morrie where he reconnected with his old sociology professor who was dying from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Mitch spent quality time with Morrie reflecting on life and the lessons he learned.  Here’s Morrie’s wise reflection on wealth: “We’ve got a sort of brainwashing going on in our country . . . Do you know how they brainwash people?  They repeat something over and over.  And that’s what we do in this country.  Owning things is good.  More money is good.  More property is good.  More commercialism is good.  More is good.  More is good.  We repeat it—and have it repeated to us—over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise.  The average person is so fogged up by all of this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore . . . You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.  Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness.  I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.”[6]

Jesus doesn’t have many positive things to say about wealth.  We keep hearing that theme in this Sermon Series as we reflect on matters of the heart.  Jesus questioned the value of wealth and the priorities of wealthy people because wealth can have an effect on people that’s ultimately not healthy and doesn’t lead to empathy.  Because wealth can isolate us from one another and enable us to ignore what’s happening in the world.  The rich fool focuses inward as he’s worried about his crops, his barns, his grain, his goods, and his soul—talking about his possessions a whole lot more than talking about the need to love God with everything we’ve got, love our neighbors, and love ourselves.  Let alone thinking about a treasure in heaven that never runs out.  Jesus recognized that mindset as a dangerous way to live—not just for our fellow human beings, but for the sake of our own souls.  Let us always remember that Jesus himself came that we might have life and have life abundantly.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 12:15, Common English Bible.
[2] Luke 12:19.
[3] Luke 12:20.
[4] Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary, 109.
[5] Luke 12:27, NRSV.
[6] Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie as quoted by J. Barney Hawkins IV and Ian S. Markham in Words that Listen: A Literary Companion to the Lectionary, Volume 2, 125-126.

Photo by Serafima Lazarenko on Unsplash.