Genesis 25:19-34, Luke 12:13-31
March 11, 2007
We continue today on the Road to Jerusalem. Again, as we go through Lent this year, we’re looking at that time in Jesus life after he “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Today we find him along that road speaking to a huge crowd. In verse 1, we’re told “There were so many thousands gathered together that they ‘trod upon one another.’” I think we need to try to picture that scene. And I don’t think we can do so very easily. Jesus was gaining in popularity so much that the number of people who came to hear him speak was growing incredibly. Remember this was first century Palestine. There weren’t that many people in the world in those days. Sometimes I wonder what percentage of the people who could come to hear Jesus – actually came to hear Jesus!
In this story today, Jesus starts by speaking to his disciples in the context of that large crowd. That was the typical rabbinical style of teaching. The rabbi would gather his disciples around him and teach them, and onlookers could also listen and learn. That happened a lot in the Gospels. Sometimes it’s even a little unclear whether he’s speaking to his inner circle, or to the multitudes around him. In this story he switches back and forth.
So, he’s talking with the disciples for a while, teaching them about standing firm when they come up against opposition. I hope you’ll go back and read that part again in the coming week. In fact, let’s make that your reading assignment. (And yes, there will be a test!)
So Jesus is teaching his disciples, and in the middle of this “Teaching Session” there is this interaction with “one of the multitude.” And I think this was one of those awkward moments. Think about it. This guy stands up and asks Jesus to do something that has little to do with what he was talking about. Imagine what it would be like if that happened in the middle of a sermon. Imagine if one of you stood up in the middle of what I was saying and threw out an unrelated question. (And by the way, please don’t!)
I think this would have been very awkward. But still, I want us to look at this man and his question for today. For he brings up a very important subject for them and for us, interruption or no. And Jesus weaves it into his subject wonderfully.
First of all, let’s think about what this man was asking? He stands up and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” Now, that either means one of two things. First, this brother may have given this man none of the inheritance, and the man was angry. Because there were certain expectations in the “social order.” The elder brother would receive the greater portion of the inheritance, as well as the “father’s blessing. The elder brother also would get the “birthright.” Those things had been established since at least the time of Jacob and Esau. We read that story in the Genesis where Jacob convinces his brother Esau to give up that birthright – for a bowl of soup! Later he would trick him out of the father’s blessing also.
So, either this brother was asking for what was rightfully his, according to the social order. Or, the other possibility was that he was asking Jesus to change the social order. He may have been asking Jesus to tell his brother to split the inheritance evenly! Now, that’s not so far fetched as we might think! Because here was this rabbi who was turning the social order and the accepted norms upside down. We saw last week how the expectations of “neighborliness” and compassion were being redefined by Jesus. It’s not so remarkable for this brother to think Jesus might seek to change other inequities in their social system.
Which ever reason there may be for this request – and I’d like us to consider both as we’re thinking about this – whichever reason for the man’s request, Jesus gives an unusual response. “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” Doesn’t this sound like schoolyard arguing? The man says, “Teacher, make him share!” And Jesus says, “Hey, I’m not your Mother!”
However, I don’t think Jesus is “copping out,” as we used to say. I don’t think Jesus is dodging the question. In fact, as he often does, Jesus makes this a teaching opportunity! Maybe he helps these brothers “get a long” better, maybe he doesn’t. But he helps all of the people to gain new perspective on the business of wealth. And that’s a perspective our world desperately needs!
Jesus tells the people to “beware of covetousness.” He says, “For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then, as he often does, he tells them a parable. And in this parable, there is a man of this man who had so many possessions, that he had no place to store them all. So he built bigger barns!
Comedian George Carlin once gave a “modern day version” of this parable. “In this society,” he said, “we are obsessed with getting ‘stuff!’” “We have homes, he said, because we need a place to keep our ‘stuff.’” “Then,” he said, “we find we have no room ourselves.” “So what do we do?” “We buy a bigger house!” “And we put our ‘stuff’ in it.” “Then, we have more room.” “But what do we do when we have more room?” “We get more ‘stuff!’” Do you see where this is going? And doesn’t it sound familiar after reading this parable?!
The difference is in the ending, though. Jesus tells how this man gets to the point where all his “worldly goods” are in order. And I love how Jesus says this. He takes on the man’s thoughts. “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul,’…” Isn’t that great?! “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Take your ease! Eat, drink, and be merry.’” Is that not the desire of our world. “Take your ease! Eat, drink, and be merry.” We still use that expression in our world today. And it originally came from Jesus.
Thats not the end of this story, though. Jesus ends the story by saying that God said to that man, “Fool! This very night your soul is required of you. And all the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” He then goes on to teach his disciples – with the crowds listening – that they were “not to be anxious for the things of this life.” (And we find words he also used in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.) But all of those words about laying up treasures on earth are made that much more poignant by this parable as Jesus delivers the punch line, “And all the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” And isn’t it interesting how that’s exactly what the man’s question was about! Whose inheritance and in what portions is it? But that’s not the point of the parable at all. Jesus is telling them that the man had put his trust in the wrong things!
Later the Apostle Paul would reflect the same thing in his second letter to the Corinthians.
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18)
Now, I know this is not a message our world wants to hear. But it’s a message the Church must hear! Our world is all about ‘stuff!’ It’s about stuff we have, stuff we want, and stuff we think we need. It’s even about stuff we never knew existed – that we can’t live without! Advertising is all about increasing our need for stuff. And of course, we don’t deny ourselves any stuff – never mind if we can afford it or not! Because we have the “new drug” of our age at our disposal. That “new drug” is credit! And we Christians – of all people – are called upon to be aware of such things, and to be “good stewards.”
You see, I’m not saying here that we shouldn’t have stuff. (Hey, I like stuff, too!) I don’t think Jesus was saying that either. He was saying that we shouldn’t be anxious about stuff. He was saying that we shouldn’t rely on stuff. We shouldn’t see it as the source of our peace and well being alone. He was saying seek first, the kingdom of God. He didn’t say “seek only the kingdom of God.”
Perhaps there are times when we should “set the stuff aside.” Perhaps there are times when we should do without, to remind ourselves just how important it is not to rely on the stuff, and to remember to rely on God. That’s a big part of the season of Lent. This is the time we set aside to do that kind of thing. I challenge you to try it. Take a specified amount of time and “do without” something. And let the absence of whatever it is to point you to God. That’s the principle behind fasting. You do without food and let the lack thereof and the associated hunger pangs remind you of your devotion to and your need for God.
Maybe that’s something you would consider doing for the remainder of Lent. But let me caution you. When you “give something up” for Lent. It should not be something you should really do without anyway! I had a friend once who gave up “French Fries” for Lent. Well, that was a sacrifice that should have been made anyway! If you “give up” something for Lent, it should be something that’s important to you, that you may be relying on too much. And the idea is for you to consider relying more on God!
Maybe you want to do that. Maybe not. But let me say in closing that, at the very least, I want to challenge you to examine your attitude toward the “stuff” of this world – especially in light of the words of the master.
Help us, Lord, to look to your kingdom first. We know there are so many things that would seek to take your place in our lives. Help us this Lenten season to see beyond those things, and to find our peace and strength in you. Teach us how to live our lives for you. For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.