Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide up the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or an arbiter over you?” And 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.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But 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?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Weddings are important, and because they are important I want couple to grasp how crazy of a thing it is to get married in the first place.
I get asked to do a fair amount of weddings and I will agree to participate so long as I can engage in at least a handful of premarital counseling sessions. Part of this is born out of a desire to know the couple well enough to actually stand before them, their friends, and their families to peach about the bizarreness of marriage, but it also my attempt to help prevent the hoped for marriage from falling apart in the future.
On more than one occasion I have shared that the first question I ask any couple wanting to get married is, “Can you tell me about your last fight?”
Its a great ice-breaker and within a few minutes I have a pretty good idea what the rest of our conversations will be like.
And yet, I know, that answering that particular question is uncomfortable. I’ve watched countless couples squirm in the chairs wondering who was going to bring up the proper location for dishes in the dishwasher, or who was going to raise the complaints about the over-bearing mother-in-law, or who would mention the frivolous spending from the bank account.
And sure enough, someone always caves and we can begin the good and difficult work of approaching marriage from a theological perspective.
But that’s not the only question that makes couples uncomfortable – no we quickly move to the subjects of sex and children, are you having it and are you wanting any respectively. And the individuals slink deeper into their chairs and their cheeks get redder and redder.
But of all the questions I ask, and all the things we discuss, there is one subject that rules them all: money.
And, as should be expected, money is usually the most discussed topic during pre-marital counseling because it is at the heart of the majority of divorces in our country. I gently encourage couples to share with me how they currently handle their finances and how they hope to handle them on the other side of “I do.” We then discuss habits and practices that can prevent the kind of deception that tends to rip couples apart around bank accounts and credit cards.
And then I get to ask a question that stops everyone dead in their tracks (Pun intended).
“How much money is enough money?”
Eyeballs always stare back at me with confusion or disbelief. So I have to elaborate: “Is there an amount of money that, should you be able to achieve it one day, you won’t want anymore?” Or “Have you considered a top salary that once you earn more than it you’ll give the rest away?”
“How much money is enough money?”
Someone in the crowd interrupted Jesus one day, “Lord, tell my brother to divide up the family inheritance with me.”
The man probably has just cause even though the conventions of the day dictated that the oldest son would receive the inheritance. Who wouldn’t want the Lord to decree that things must be divided evenly particular when it comes to money?
And Jesus snaps right back, “Hey, who made me a judge or a divider over all you people?”
Apparently, Jesus’ work is bigger than the incidental patching up of family problems and financial squabbles.
But then Jesus does what Jesus does best; he tells a story.
There was a man who was doing well with his career. At first, he used the excess cash to fill his house with all sorts of trinkets and wares designed to show other people how wealthy he was. First it started with some original paintings, but then he ran out of wall space. Next he redid his entire wardrobe, but then his closet was full. And lastly he decided to buy an extra car, but there was no room in the garage.
What was the man to do?
And he had a vision… Why not tear it all down and build a bigger house to fit all of his stuff inside?
And thats what he did.
In the midst of the plans for reconstruction, while laying out ideas of what would go where, he said to himself, “You’ve done good old boy. Time to eat, drink, and be merry.”
When suddenly a booming voice shatters all the new windows, “You fool! This night they are demanding your life, and whose will they be?!”
Much to our chagrin, the line between evil and foolishness is frighteningly thin. Up to this point in the gospel story Jesus has been using those qualifiers interchangeably when denouncing the scribes and Pharisees, he has used both word for the powers and the principalities. But now they get turned against us.
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, because our lives are about more than what we have.
But Jesus, what about my 401k?
But Jesus, what about my nest egg?
But Jesus, what about all that stuff I’ve accumulated to show people who I really am?
All of that stuff, all of that money, they are the hopes of the well off and the envy of the poor who will never have them, nothing more nothing less and nothing else.
Our world, all of this, even in the church (sadly), it’s all run on avarice. Extreme greed for wealth or material goods. It’s the lie we were fed as children, and it’s the lie that we feed to our children. It is reinforced on every magazine cover, on every instagram post, and with every commercial on TV.
Happiness is yours if you acquire this thing.
And it’s all a lie.
Because contrary to that false narrative, something hammered home relentlessly, we are not defined by our bank accounts or by what we hang on our walls or by what kind of car we drive. Its poverty, not wealth; its death, not life – that are the ways by which God saves us.
Regardless of whether we’re wealthy, poor, or somewhere in-between, all of us in Jesus’ eyes are people who are sin-sick with our insatiable desire for more.
And not just more, but more more more!
We clutch at all that is around us rather than opening our palms to ever be open to anything else.
We’d rather receive than give.
Earn all you can, and save all you can, because its an eat or be eaten world out there, right?
I don’t know about you but this parable stings. It just won’t leave me alone. It confronts and convicts me.
Jesus tells a story in which a man does what all of us do with our avarice, with our greed: We congratulate ourselves on all we have accomplished.
You graduated with that GPA? Wow, you definitely deserve to do whatever you want this summer.
Your grandchildren really are adorable, and their parents are paying for your next vacation? Sounds like it’s time to relax and start enjoying your well deserved retirement.
You just got that promotion you’ve been gunning for? Wonderful, you definitely have this whole adulting thing figured out!
And I have this job, it’s a great job. My marriage is beautiful, I have a son who brings smiles to the faces of all with eyes to see. Good job Taylor! Relax, eat, drink, be merry!
But here’s the really interesting thing about all of that stuff – from the GPA to the kids to the promotion to the bank accounts – we think we earn them or at the least we deserve them, when in fact each and every one of those things is a gift. They are good only because someone, or something, was good to us.
Jesus sets up the man as a paradigm of everything we think to be good, and right, and true. He’s fiscally responsible after all. He’s earned it. And yet, the man is only a master of a life that is completely and radically out of his control – he is nothing but the captain of a ship that has been taking on water since it left the dock.
You see, Jesus builds up the man as the pinnacle on financial responsibility only to knock him straight down to the ground: “You fool! This night they are demanding your life, and then whose will they be?”
Up until the Lord’s interruption in his life, the fool has been living in monologue. The whole parable is just him talking to himself, congratulating himself, rejoicing in and with himself. All the while forgetting that his good crops, or his stock portfolio, or whatever the thing is, was always first a gift.
And gifts require givers.
Or, to put it another way, isn’t is such great and sweet irony that the man who had it all discovers that his things had him?
And they do have us, don’t they? We lay awake at night thinking not upon all the good that we have, not giving thanks to the Lord above and to the people around us who make our lives possible, but with worry.
And not just worry for the sake or worrying – we worry about our stuff.
Was that the right investment?
Am I going to be able to afford that new cable plan?
Was I foolish to buy that extra TV?
And yet, we keep acquiring new things and we try to control them. Or, at the very least, we try to control our lives with the accumulation of things such that it makes us appear as if we have our lives together.
We want to be rich, or we want to appear rich.
However, unlike Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, the only truly rich person in the world in Jesus.
You and me, we spend our whole lives in the pursuit of wealth (both material and immaterial) only to come in the end to the greatest poverty of all: death.
This is the frightening and final tone of the parable, the one that lingers long after even being called a fool: no matter how much we make and no matter how much we accumulate, we all die in the end.
I pity the fool, particularly because the fool is me.
The fool is all of us.
We all live in these self-satisfied, fat, and ignorant monologues about all that is good in our lives and we forget, mostly because we avoid it, that we all die in the end.
But in Jesus, the one who tells this story precisely because it frightens us to death, all is turned upside down. The Lord offers grace to both the wicked in their moral poverty and to the rich in the death of all their stuff. Jesus becomes a new way in which all of our pointless pursuing and all of our foolish incomprehension becomes something we can call good.
We can call it good because Jesus is there for us in our deaths.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, not our money or lack or it, not our stuff or lack of it, not our lives and not even our deaths.
We might not see it, and we might not believe it, but there is greater wealth in the salvation of Christ than in every bank in the world.
And it is ours for free.
We can’t earn it.
We don’t deserve it.
It’s not cheap.
It’s not even expensive.
It’s free for you and me and every fool the world will ever see. Amen.