Reading – Luke 12: 13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator 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 towards God.’
The rich man has two things on his mind – the desire to accumulate more and the desire to relax, but like many rich people his desire to go on accumulating over-rides the idea of being at leisure, because, it would appear, he already has the wealth to relax, and a sufficiently assured income for the future, but still wants more. God is blunt and calls him a fool, but not just because he has waited to the point of harvest before deciding to tear down his existing barns, nor because his desire to accumulate seems to mean relaxation is always second, but even more so because he cannot buy himself out of his mortality – he is not investing in his future!
For peasant farmers possibly in debt to such rich farmers, they would have enjoyed hearing that this man will face God’s judgement. Later in the gospel, a rich man finds himself eternally separated from the beggar Lazarus whom he has not helped; later too, the rich young ruler finds his wealth too attractive or addictive, though there is hope – Zacchaeus manages to break free, or rather he discovers such a welcome from Jesus that he no longer holds his wealth in the same regard. It is easier for a camel to thread itself through the eye of a needle (ludicrous) than for a rich man (or woman) to enter the Kingdom of God, because, as Jesus says, you cannot worship God and Mammon.
So what does this mean for us, wealthy in comparison to so many and with more “possessions” than our forebears; we, pretty much all of us, have pulled down our expectations and built bigger and become used to the larger barns which now need filling. I am – I hope – grateful for what I have but how easily “wealth” wraps around us, enticing us, distorting our vision, manipulating our values. This rich man may be a caricature from the Bible times, but he is also quite an accurate sketch of our world today, with its ever-increasing TV sizes, ever more clever mobile phones, and cars, and our expectation that pine-apples or whatever can be in our shops whenever we want one. Although the story is humorous it challenges our current outlook and values, where God is given no honour or at best a passing nod. If this world is all that matters to us then accumulating will be a mark of success; if our citizenship, future and identity is with God, we can find a freedom – but the pull of Mammon is like gravity – it constantly pulls us, and we must consistently challenge it.
Revd Peter Reiss