13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Rabbi, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But Jesus replied, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And Jesus said to the crowd, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then Jesus told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And the landowner thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then 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. 19 And I will say to my self, Self, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to the landowner, ‘Fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
Loving and generous God,
With so much to worry about these days,
So much that demands our attention,
So much that dials up our anxieties,
You keep calling us and turning us toward our neighbor.
Call us and turn us again this morning.
Keep reorienting us toward those in need
And toward you.
There’s a game that gets played between Tiffany and I and our families. Whether it’s my parents or my in-laws, every time we go out to dinner or for a meal, there’s a gamesmanship and jockeying that happens for who’s going to get the check. It’s a lighthearted game, but there are some meals where the winner has had to get pretty creative in how they will get their card to the waiter. There was once when my father-in-law gave his card to the waitress before they even seated us for the meal.
All in good fun.
Generosity is a learned habit, and it’s usually learned by seeing it and experiencing it from others. I never saw my parents decline an opportunity to be abundant with their generosity toward others. I noticed that, I picked up on it, and it’s a habit I strive to keep to in my own life. Even knowing now what I didn’t know then, which is that there were certainly some lean times…we weren’t rich, by any stretch, but my sister and I always had everything we needed and so much more. What I know now, and what you certainly know, church, is that there are lean times, but generosity isn’t just limited to picking up the check when you go out to eat.
We can become preoccupied with materiality during those times. Obsessively checking our bank accounts or our wallets. Constantly refreshing your retirement account. It’s like the doomscrolling you’ve heard me mention before about social media, but with money. It gives you anxiety. And it’s needless. And look, I get it, I can fall victim to that same trap. Preoccupied with worry, preoccupied with what we don’t have…and I’m called to help lead and shepherd this small non-profit, so I’ve got two bank accounts to worry and fret over! Double the anxiety! Double the fun!
But it’s this worry and this preoccupation that Jesus is addressing this morning.
After a word of caution against greed, Jesus launches into a parable about an extremely wealthy landowner who has a great year. A few notes of context: landowners in the 1st century, unlike the farmers many of you are thinking about, many of which may be your relatives, landowners did not necessarily do their own work. Landowners, obviously, owned the land, and paid others, hired servants, to do the work on their land for them. It wasn’t an inherently oppressive system, workers were paid, but as with all things, and as all of you are well aware, in economic systems, if you’re making money, you’ve gotta make your money somehow. Landowners paid hired servants to do the work, but if they were turning a profit, it’s because the proceeds of the sale of their crops brought in more money than they were paying out in wages and spending on equipment. Economics 101. Revenue vs. expense.
It’s also important to note that Hebrew law, Torah, expressly forbid charging interest on loans, making vast amounts of money at the expense of others, and hoarding and keeping for yourself without a thought toward those on the margins of society—the poor, the outcast, the downtrodden, the stranger, the immigrant, the sojourner, and the vulnerable. Torah commanded that you leave the edges of your field, about 10% of your crops, unharvested for those folks to glean from. This was apart from the 10% that you were to dedicate to God, right? That was your tithe, your first fruits, the first 10% of your harvest that was to be given to God, offered at the temple. So you were left with about 80% of what your produced.
The landowner in Jesus’ parable doesn’t do this. He has a great year. So great, that he has more produce than he has space to store it. “I’ll pull down my barns, level them to the ground, and build bigger ones, with enough room to store it all. And I’ll say to myself, ‘Self, you’ve done well. Relax, eat, drink, and be merry.’”
- My. Myself. Self. I. Me.
Without a passing thought to those who actually did the work in the fields. Without a passing thought to those with whom he’s commanded to share his abundance.
Then all of sudden, God shows up, calls it curtains for the landowner, and now whose stuff does it become? Who gets to enjoy the proceeds of this abundant harvest? The workers? The laborers? The poor, the strangers, the immigrants, and the outcast?
The author of Luke spends more time talking about wealth and money than any other gospel writer, and Luke certainly has some harsh words for the wealthy in their society, but Luke’s harshest criticisms are for those who make and enjoy their wealth at the expense of others, who make their money through the systemic oppression and subjugation of others. Jesus’ condemnation here isn’t that the landowner had a great year of abundance, but that his plan for storing this abundance gave no thought to others. No thought to his workers, no thought to the downtrodden and those in need, no thought to anyone who wasn’t himself.
It’s the same thing we’ve been talking about this whole month. It’s the lawyer’s question to Jesus from a few weeks ago: “Who is my neighbor?” How will I utilize the opportunities given to me to show compassion, hospitality, mercy, and love toward my neighbor, toward those in need, toward those who I don’t know very well at all but who are still in need of a hand-up just the same?
Church, it’s the question at the heart of baptism, at the heart of who we are called to be as followers and disciples of Christ. If God has been so abundantly and extravagantly generous in faithfulness, love, compassion, and goodness with you—those incredibly good gifts like we talked about last week—if God has been so faithful and loving toward you, how much more are you, as baptized Christians and disciples of Jesus, called to be abundantly and extravagantly generous with others, with your neighbor, with strangers, with your community, and with the world?
This is the call placed on Colson’s life this morning. It’s the call placed on you and on your life through your baptism, church. It is who we are called to be as baptized members of the household of God and as followers of Christ and disciples of Jesus.
In the Psalm we read this morning, the Psalmist recounts God’s faithfulness throughout history. From creation, to the deliverance from Egypt, and the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert…throughout all of time, God remains faithful. “Her faithful love is everlasting.” The very character of God is faithful and loving. God remains faithful in her love toward her people. God has been faithful in love toward her people before, and we can trust that she will act faithfully and lovingly toward God’s people again, toward us, in our present, and in our future.
This is God’s great promise made to us through baptism, that nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God. Whatever we do, however far we wander, however much we mess up, God remains faithful and loving toward us. And if this is God’s posture toward us, how much more, then, is it a model for us in our posture toward God and toward one another? Since God has been so faithful and loving toward us, part of our baptismal calling is to be vessels of that same faithful love toward our neighbors.
The wealthy landowner was preoccupied with himself. I. My. Myself. Self. I. Me.
When we are consumed by our self, and our stuff, and our things, we are incapable of turning our focus outward. This is Luther’s definition of sin, interestingly, that we are incurvatus in se—to be “turned in on one’s self”—to be so focused on me and my and my self that we are incapable of seeing and responding to our neighbor in need.
The liberating good news of the Gospel is that God’s love and faithfulness unbends our backs. God loves us back to upright, and calls us not only to see our neighbor and those in need, but to extend hands and hearts of help, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love to the world.
If God has been so abundantly and extravagantly generous with you, dear people, how much more are you called to be generous with others?
Generosity begets generosity.
Not a preoccupation with your self.
Not a preoccupation with what you have or don’t have.
Not a preoccupation with having enough space.
But a preoccupation with your neighbor.
And making sure your neighbor has enough.