Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost/Lectionary 18C, July 31st, 2016
Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-31
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fair warning: I spent the week out at Camp of the Cross where we had Christmas in July, and so I’ve got Christmas on the brain right now.
This parable is often called the parable of the rich fool. But what is it that makes him foolish? Is it because he built silos to store his harvest in? I don’t think so. As any farmer knows, you don’t use up your harvest all at once. Particularly if, as in those days, you weren’t selling it to a company and shipping it off far away, but were going to be eating much of it yourself over the course of the year and selling the rest bit by bit as people need it. Building silos to hold your harvest is not only good common sense, it’s necessary to prevent spoilage, and to prevent pests from devouring your crops. And God has no problem with good food storage in case of future bad harvests—remember the story of Joseph in Egypt. The Pharaoh had bad dreams, which Joseph realized were a warning from God about years of famines to come, and it was through that warning and Joseph’s interpretation that allowed the Egyptians to store up supplies of grain to get them through the lean years, and in the end save Joseph’s family, too. Building barns big enough to hold the harvest was not what made the rich man a fool.
The rich man had managed his land well. The Bible tells us that the land produced abundantly—the soil was good, there was enough sun and rain, everything working together to produce a bumper crop. But as any farmer knows, the farmer’s actions in cultivating the crop make a huge difference. When to plant, when to harvest, what type of crop—even back in the days before things like pesticides and fertilizer sprayers, there was a lot of work that had to be done the right way to get a good crop, even when the weather and the land were perfect. The land that he had inherited was good, and God gave him good weather, that year; but he would still have had to manage it well to get such a wonderful crop. So it’s not his land husbandry that makes him a fool, either.
No, what makes him a fool is something subtler. What makes him a fool is that he relies solely on himself, on his own actions, to safeguard himself. He doesn’t consider his family and community, he doesn’t consider the larger world, and he doesn’t consider God. It’s all about him. Him, him, him. His skills, his fears, his grain, his barns. What matters to him? That he, personally, has “enough” that he doesn’t need to worry. Whose needs does he consider? Only his own. Whose advice does he ask? Only himself. This guy is the loneliest guy in the entire Bible. He’s more alone than prophets fasting in the wilderness, because they at least had God with them. This guy, not so much. He kind of reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge. Like Scrooge, he had all the wealth a man could possibly want. Like Scrooge, he wanted more. Like Scrooge, he was utterly, completely alone, and he seemed to like it that way.
Notice that the fool is rich when the story begins, and he gets richer. He shouldn’t have much, if anything, to worry about financially. He should already be secure enough to take the time off that he so desires to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. But his existing wealth wasn’t enough, he needed more. Before he could relax, before he could enjoy the fruits of his labors, before he could take the time off to have some fun, he needed to be more than just rich. He needed to have AMPLE grain and goods for many years stored up neatly. He needs to have enough so that no matter what happens, even if there are bad harvests for the next twenty years, he’ll still have more than he needs stored up. Only then will he be able to relax and stop worrying.
It sounds absurd. But you know what? They’ve done studies on this. If you ask someone “how much money would you need to have before you stop worrying about having enough money?” And you know what? It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, the answer is usually about 15% more than you have right now. And if you track people over the course of their life, and their wealth grows so they reach or surpass the wealth they thought they’d need to feel secure? They still feel they don’t have enough, and that they would need about 15% more in order to not worry about money. It doesn’t matter how much we have: when we focus on money, when we focus on our own wealth and earnings to make us financially secure, we will always think we don’t have enough. We will always be craving more, thinking, “if only I had more, then I would be secure and could relax.” And when we get that “more,” it still isn’t enough. Because there will always be things in the world that could happen. We could lose our home in a fire or flood. We could get hit by a car. A close loved-one might get a rare disease and need experimental treatments. No matter how much money we have, we will never have the resources to handle every possible thing the world might throw at us. Not if we’re relying on ourselves alone.
We were not created to rely on ourselves alone. We were created for relationships—with God, and with our fellow human beings, and with all creation. Love is God’s very nature, not as an abstract thing but as actions. God created us in love, sustains us in love, forgives us in love, and asks that we love one another as he has loved us. Everything that we have and everything that we are comes from God; God loves us, and wishes for us to have abundant lives filled with good things. And one of the ways that God does this is by human relationships. The kinds of relationships the fool just doesn’t seem to have.
When we see people in need, God tells us, we are supposed to respond. Both the Old and New Testaments insist upon this point. God does not give us blessings so that we can hoard them, but so that we can share them. So, for example, farmers are supposed to leave some of their crop in the field for poor people to glean and for animals to eat. Merchants are supposed to be scrupulously fair … but they are also supposed to see to it that no one is left destitute because of their practices. Debts that are too onerous should be forgiven, and no one should ever be left without the basic necessities of life. Those in the community without resources are to be taken care of. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains it this way: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” In other words, when I see someone I can help, I’m supposed to do it—and then, when I need help, they help me. What goes around, comes around, creating a community in which everyone has enough and no one is left out. And the reason the rich man is a fool is that he can’t see that. He thinks he can do everything himself, that his own efforts will give him the security that he craves, and so he considers only his own fears and desires.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.” The rich man worried about all of that. He never had enough. And he spent so much time trying to get enough that he was completely alone. He never thought about the needs of others; he never thought about what God might be calling him to do with the abundance he had been given. He never took the time to rest, to relax, to enjoy his life. And when he finally stopped to smell the roses, it was too late. What had all that worrying about money gotten him? Nothing. He died before he could enjoy the fruits of his labors. And he died alone. It’s as if Scrooge had died that first night when Jacob Marley came to visit him.
Money matters. Food, clothing, housing, all these things matter. But there are things that matter more: community, for one. Faith in God, for another. Healthy, life-giving relationships with God and with our neighbor. Love, justice, freedom, and peace. Those are the things that make life worth living. Those are the very things the rich fool didn’t have, for all his money. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, he was a slave to his wealth, turning away from all the good things he might have had if only he had opened himself up to God and to those around him, rich and poor alike. And all his toil, all his worry, all his abundance of possessions didn’t save him in the end. They couldn’t. There is only one who saves, and he can’t be bought with money or posessions.
May we put our trust in Jesus Christ, and live abundant lives full of love and justice as he would have us do.