Will it ever stop? The constant pursuit of the almighty dollar. I suppose so long as there is coinage worth anything man will continue to seek and accrue as much of it as possible. As the Christmas season drags ever closer to its conclusion, I am all the more reminded of this. The hoarding of “stuff,” the purchasing of “things;” will we ever get past it? Can we ever stop it? It is this gross commercialization of Christmas that reminds why our Lord taught so much about money. His teachings were simple but always on point: nothing in this world is so important that it should blind us of spiritual truth, especially money. In Luke 12.13-21, our Lord runs across a man desperate to ensure he gets his cut of the family inheritance.
The Man with a Plan
It seems that in the Lord’s teaching (12.1-12) there was some sort of a pause or break. It was at this point that a man spoke up. Notice, the Lord has just laid down some heavy teaching about the Pharisees being hypocrites and the sin that cannot be forgiven. And then this man speaks up and more or less tattles on his brother. Discontent with what he gets (or got) when his father passes, he wants Jesus to give him more. The man’s selfish interests are clear from the start, he can’t hide it.
Let’s keep this in cultural context: chances are this man’s brother is the older brother. Under Jewish custom, the older brother got a double portion of the inheritance. So this man is unhappy that his brother got more. This man wants an even cut. So it is this point that he submits to Jesus. Why? Because think of what Jesus’s actions look like to this man. Jesus is going against the grain, going heads-up with trradition. And if he has done that thus far, why wouldn’t he help with the tradition of inheritance. It is quite the ingenius plan.
But it is all for naught. Jesus knowws what is in a man and he can see through this cleverly crafted ruse. So Jesus replies to this man’s request. He calls his “man;” there is a tinge of rebuke in this word. Almost as if Jesus is saying “You poor, ignorant man, you still don’t get it.” Jesus has not come to be “judge or arbiter” in this world; he has come for a higher purpose, and higher work. One commentator writes, “The utter selfish worldliness of the man, who, after hearing the solemn and impressive words just spoken [v.1-12], could intrude suuch a question, comes strongly into view” (emphasis theirs). This is the wrong question tot he wrong man. Jesus did not come to assist us in our pursuits of greed and wealth. Rather he came to warn of those things.
The Lord with a Plea
Jesus once more addresses the crowd and issues a warning: Watch out! And also guard yourself, keep away from all kinds of greed. So there you have it. Jesus answers this man’s plea and publically announces for all to hear. Jesus identifies what was in this man and speaks against it. And just as this man’s greed had swallowed him up in Jesus’ day, so have many been consumed by their intense desire to have more today. What makes a man? The suit he wears? The job he has? The car he drives? The size of his bank account? No! Jesus says, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” There is somethig deeper, something more infinite which ought to make up a man’s life.
The Teacher with a Parable
Jesus illustrates his teaching with a parable. Again, a parable is “an earthly story with a spiritual (divine) meaning.” It is a simply story: a rich man’s crops produce an abundant crop. What’s a guy to do? This rich man decides to build bigger barns to store up his wealth. Quite pretentious! But notice the attitude in v.17-19: “my” appears 4 times, and “I” shows up eight times in the Greek. This man is horrendously self-absorbed with himself and his money. It is about storing up that wealth, not using it wisely. There is not desire to serve God with his money nor to help other people; it is just gross selfishness and greed.
What does God think of such a man? “Fool!” is the cry from heaven. How utterly, utterly foolish to be so self-focused and desirous of self-indulgence. Leon Morris in his comments of this passage says, “A man’s life is an uncertain thing at best and no-one has the assurance that he will live the years he would like.” The true folly within this rich man is his assumption that he has control of the future. In a roundabout way, he assumes the place of God concerning his life.
What is the point of the parable? Verse 21: “…but is not rich toward God.” Someone reading may think I am being critical of rich people or that I am saying having money (even wealth) is bad. This is simply not the case. In fact, no where in Scripture is having wealth condemned. Moreover, Scripture says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy men with catlle, gold, and silver. “What about ‘money is the root of all evil?'” My friend, read that passage again (1 Timothy 6.10): “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” There’s nothing wrong with money; but there is something wrong with our attitude toward money. And Jesus is attacking that problem, that improper attitude and trying to help us prioritize. What is truly important: chasing that almighty dollar or loving the Almighty God? Jesus says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” In other words, when you’ve gained the whole world but lost your soul (that immortal part of your very being) in the process, what will you give to get your soul back? Half the world? All of it? Then why even get in the rat race at all, if that is the case? To settle less than being rich toward God is foolish.