July 31, 2022

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

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Weekly Prayer Recording


A Fool and His Wealth…

The Reverend Linda Mackie Griggs

Recording of the sermon:

8 Pentecost Proper 13 Year C      

31 July 2022

Luke 12: 13-21

Parable of the rich man
*oil on panel
*31.9 x 42.5 cm
*signed b.l.: RH. 1627.

“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?’”

There was a rich man who ordered a yacht to be built for himself; it was a large vessel, more than the length of a football field. It was so large that when it was built it could not be launched without dismantling a bridge to the city where it was built. The rich man said to the people of the city, “Dismantle the bridge! I want to take my new yacht to sea and go wherever I wish to go.” But the people of the city said, “No. We will not take down the bridge. You should have thought about this before you had the yacht built.” So, the yacht remained unfinished in the boatyard and the rich man went nowhere in it.

This is not a parable, it’s a New York Times article about Jeff Bezos. But it could be a parable, couldn’t it–Luke would have had a field day with “The Rich Man and the Superyacht.” The end of this story may have yet to be written, but we can only imagine how it would end if put in the deft hands of Jesus and Luke. 

Luke had no great love for the wealthy and felt deep solidarity with the poor, as is evident throughout his Gospel and Acts. In The Magnificat, Mary exults at the prospect of the rich being sent away empty while the hungry are filled with good things. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man ate sumptuously every day while Lazarus languished sick, starving and ignored at the rich man’s gate. The rich man ended up tormented in Hades while Lazarus was carried away by angels to be with Abraham. Luke also wrote of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life, and when Jesus told him to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor, he went away heartbroken because he didn’t want to give up his wealth. 

This is just a sample. Luke did not mince words about the wealthy, though he made exceptions, as with Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who took care of Jesus’ body right after the crucifixion. But exceptions aside, Luke had plenty to say about money, and The Parable of the Rich Fool, as today’s story is sometimes called, is a parable with a particular fiscal point.

It begins with a conflict between brothers: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus doesn’t even ask for the details. They don’t matter. He distances himself from their squabble, cautions them against greed, and launches his parable.

“The land of a rich man produced abundantly.”

The land produced abundantly. The always picturesque King James translation says, “The ground…brought forth plentifully.” The subject–the focus–of this statement is the land, the ground, the Earth. In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes that Indigenous wisdom teaches that everything is a gift. The Earth offers us what we need to survive and flourish, and our response to this bounty of gifts should be twofold. First, as with any gift freely given (as all true gifts are), we experience gratitude; we acknowledge the gift and the Giver. A practice of gratitude cultivates an awareness of sufficiency and abundance–we become confident that we have what we need. Second, we reciprocate. We respond to gifts either with acts of gratitude or by paying it forward. We reciprocate to the land that brings forth plentifully by respecting and caring for her, and we share her bounty with others, which contributes to their sense of gratitude and abundance, resulting in more reciprocity, and so it goes on–a web of reciprocity that extends and expands outward.

Gift. Gratitude. Reciprocity. This is the gift economy, that acknowledges an ever-present relationship between giver and receiver that is in stark contrast with a market economy, which privileges the idea, not of giver and receiver, but of user and used. When we use something as opposed to accepting it gratefully, we can just as easily cast it aside. We take it for granted. We can look around today and see the consequences of treating our world as a collection of resources for our use rather than gifts for our stewardship and responsibility.

The rich man in the parable has no clue about the web of reciprocity. He has a big operation with apparently disposable storage barns that he is going to tear down and replace with larger ones. There is no sign from him of gratitude for what has gone into making his bumper crop; either the labor of the field hands or the providence of good weather and lack of blight. And he certainly shows no sign of reciprocity: He doesn’t say he is going to share his good fortune with anyone–not with his workers or with those who are less fortunate. He’s just going to hoard it in his new barns and relax. And note that he speaks to himself, not God: “Soul, he says, you have ample goods…relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

Luke is probably riffing on a line from Isaiah (as well as reflecting earlier Epicurean philosophers): when he writes, “eat, drink, be merry…”

Complete the phrase: …for tomorrow, we may die.

`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 toward God.”

You fool.

Luke has utter disdain for the rich fool, though not because he is rich per se; it’s because of a twisted relationship with his wealth that has distorted his world view. He doesn’t recognize the gift, he doesn’t feel the gratitude, and he doesn’t practice reciprocity. He doesn’t have a generous bone in his body. And he loses it all.

So, the parable is over. Jesus looks at his audience, especially the brothers quarreling over their inheritance. Given that this was a parable, we must ask, what about this story would make the brothers most uncomfortable? Notice that there has been no mention of how much was at stake; it could have been a small inheritance as easily as a big one. What do the brothers have in common with the rich fool? 

Relationships broken by greed. Jesus said it at the outset–beware of greed. The letter to the Colossians says it too: greed is a form of idolatry–replacing God with something else.

Broken relationship.

The rich fool’s relationships with land, labor, neighbor, and God are broken. He is isolated; he thinks only of himself. Likewise, the brothers’ relationship with one another has fractured–over money. They have tragically forgotten the priceless bond of family. 

“…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” A life based solely on possessions disconnects a person from meaningful relationships; it risks treating everyone as well as everything as a commodity–something to be used and cast off when no longer needed, like a bridge that can be dismantled at will–or not; like a superyacht that languishes incomplete in drydock–left as an object lesson in greed and unrestrained ego. 

What does it mean to be rich toward God? It is to be in the image and likeness of God, which is to live in relationship with God, humanity and all of Creation in a web of reciprocity–as gift, not commodity. It is to live into our Baptismal Covenant, which we will soon renew as we welcome Liam Michael into the Household of God. We will welcome him into relationship with his new family, the Body of Christ. We will introduce him to a life of faith and help him to grow into the full stature of Christ. He will learn, with God’s help, how much he is loved by God, and he will in turn show that love to the world. He will learn that all of his life is abundance–not of possessions to be hoarded, but of gifts to be shared. I pray that by God’s grace there is still time for the rest of us to learn the same lessons.