Approached by a man who wanted him to arbitrate in a family inheritance dispute, Jesus took the opportunity to teach about the danger of greed and the need to be rich towards God rather than towards ourselves. He told a parable about a rich man who found himself in possession of a bumper harvest and needed to decide how to handle it. He made the mistake of only thinking from his own selfish point of view rather than looking at it from God’s point of view. This is a trap that so many of us in the richer countries of the world can so easily fall into.
This passage was discussed by several of our community at our regular Sunday Bible study starting at 10.30am SLT (led this week by Joyous Schism) and then was the topic of my reflection (reproduced below) at the noon SLT service which followed.
The readings were Psalm 49:1-12, Colossians 3:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21.
I was doing some much needed tidying up in our garden yesterday. I seem to spend so much time online that things have slipped in the garden and the weeds are gaining the upper hand! I can see that my two week break from work at the end of this month will need to be spent restoring order. While out in the garden I took a look at our plum trees and was disappointed to see that we have very few plums on them this year, probably due to the bad winter.
The trees were given to us as a Silver (25th) Wedding Anniversary present by my parents. At first they were quite tiny but they have done well and now, 12 years later, they need regular pruning to keep them to a reasonable size. There was no fruit at all in the early years but then suddenly they began to produce huge amounts of fruit, with the branches laden down with plums. I really love the taste of ripe Victoria plums but there’s a limit to how many you can use at once and they don’t keep for long, once ripe. We ate some, froze some for the winter time, made jam from the smaller ones and still had lots left over. Our friends and family benefited from lots of free fruit which they in their turn made into deserts, jams and wine. It was hard work to dispose of the wonderful crop but at least it brought pleasure to several people.
I can sympathise with the dilemma of the man in the parable today who suddenly found himself with a bumper harvest. It’s right that he gave some thought to what he would do with it all. It would hardly make sense to let it all go to waste. I suppose he could have sold it but perhaps if it was a productive year for everyone he reasoned that he would not get a good price. Keeping the crop for himself seemed to him to be the best idea. The key there of course is *self*. This man was looking to his own advantage, what he could get out of the good fortune which had befallen him. If we look at the parable we can see that very clearly:
*I* have no place to store *my* crops
*I* will do this
*I* will pull down *my* barns and build larger ones
*I* will store all *my* grain and *my* goods.
*I* will say to *my* soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years
Never does there seem to be a thought for anyone else at all who might benefit from the man’s good fortune.
Jesus was using this parable to illustrate that having an abundance of possessions is not the way to experience life as it should be. Greed takes over our lives if we are not careful. If you observe those who have a lot of things you will often see that they are not content but want more and more, still never being satisfied no matter how much they buy or consume. So often you hear of a person from a relatively rich country who visits a poor country and is amazed by the joy, contentment and generosity demonstrated by those who have so very little to live on. It has been said that the more possessions we have, the more we worry about them and add to our stress in life.
Children who have been indulged with everything they ask for are often demanding and unpleasant, whining for the next thing, bombarding their parents with a new list every day of ‘must haves’ when they have barely had time to appreciate the previous item they were given. When my children were small, supermarkets still had a tempting array of sweets beside the checkouts. This almost inevitably led to waiting children demanding their favourite chocolate bar and throwing tantrums if it was denied them. I always made it plain to my children that if they asked for anything at the checkout they would most certainly not get it, tantrum or no tantrum. It meant peace for me and for them and happy faces when I bought something as a treat.
Being wealthy is not wrong; in fact it gives choices to people and allows them to do all sorts of good if they want to. What matters is the attitude of the heart. As Paul said to the church at Colossae: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”. The man in the parable didn’t recognise that all he possessed was actually a gift from God, nor did he take time to ask God how he should use his riches. He was rich in earthly terms but bankrupt in terms of his relationship with God. As a result he simply planned for himself what he would do and then got a nasty surprise when God told him he would die before he could enjoy his retirement.
The last verse of this parable says ‘So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God’ or as given in The Message translation: ‘That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.’ Being rich towards God means that we value different things, the things which God also values such as our relationships, time for just being not doing, matters of justice, giving our time, talents and treasure for the good of others and so on.
Jesus was trying to help us get our riches in perspective. This list on what money can buy was written in a restaurant in Guatemala and quoted in a Christian Aid study:
Money can buy:
– a bed, but no dreams;
– books, but not intelligence;
– food, but not appetite;
– adornments, but not beauty;
– medicines, but not health;
– entertainment, but not joy;
– a crucifix, but not a Saviour…
It’s up to each of us to consider our circumstances and to prayerfully seek that which will make us truly rich in life. It’s unlikely to be more money or bigger barns to store our goods in, whatever that might look like in our lives. It’s far better to store our treasures in heaven than here on earth, as Jesus taught elsewhere, by living according to God’s priorities.
There’s a legend about St Thomas the Apostle which I came across recently. He told the king of India, Gundafor, that he would build a wonderful palace for him. The king gave Thomas the money but eventually found out that there was no palace built. Instead Thomas gave all the money to the poor. He was arrested on a charge of fraud and imprisoned to await execution. On the night before the execution was due to take place, the king’s brother had a dream. He saw a beautiful palace in heaven and asked the angel with him who owned it. The angel said, ‘It belongs to your brother, King Gundafor.’
Jean-Baptiste Vianney, who lived a very simple life, looking after the poor and teaching the Christian faith, had this to say:
My children, reflect that a Christian’s treasure is not on earth but in heaven. Therefore our thoughts should turn to where our treasure is. Ours is a noble task: that of prayer and love. To pray and to love, that constitutes the greatest possible happiness for us in this life.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor