[Text: Luke 12:13-21 ]. This and August 11 somehow go together- there’s a little repetition , partly because not everyone gets to church every week or remembers perfectly, and partly because I think this is really important for North Americans like us.
You can guess- it’s not going to end well for that rich farmer. In Luke’s gospel rich people are headed for trouble, from the get-go. Mary’s Song promises “ the rich will be sent empty away”. In Luke’s blessings and woes- blessing number 1 is for the poor- not just the poor in spirit, no, the poor- theirs is the realm of God. Woe no. 1 is for the rich: “ you have received your consolation . “
And Jesus as told by Luke is not the first to attack the rich. Prophet after prophet in the Hebrew Bible, the First Testament , do the same.
And yet, over and over again the church has soft-pedalled what Jesus says about the rich. Why? Well- probably because they don’t want to upset the rich people who help keep the churches going or those who are running the country. And – more often than not- it suits the interests of the more powerful for the rich to be praised and the poor to continue being downtrodden.
And what does this story say to us? We are not that rich, are we? I’m sure many of us have to be careful with our spending. Jesus is talking about someone else- right?
But parables, typically , are not designed to make us comfortable. They aren’t always about someone else, even when we’d like them to be.
First, look at the introduction to this parable: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”. That seems a bit unfair to the individual who would like a more equitable share of the family inheritance.
But we know all too well the conflicts that can break out over estates, or even over who gets the family heirlooms. And we know that it’s not just about estates and heirlooms.
Here and now , we are encouraged to be greedy. Our daily bread isn’t good enough. We should want lots of money in the bank, plus savings, plus interest. We should want to order stuff on line- so easy, just a click of the mouse- Or not miss the latest sale. And, though it’s not a United Church kind of thing, we should want to win the lottery – so we can have everything we want and more! And of course , if we’re running businesses, we do want people to want stuff- can anyone blame us?
Plus – possessions! And bigger spaces to keep those possessions, and insurance to protect them. That’s our world too- not just that of the rich farmer. I love watching the TV show Escape to the Country- it’s about city or town people in Britain seeking a country home, for a few hundred thousand pounds. But it’s not just escape viewing for me- it makes me think. Often they are upsizing- wanting more room for their stuff, outbuildings, huge kitchens , huge bedrooms and the like, more driveway or garage space for all their vehicles. Plus, far from thinking about mortality , they aren’t even thinking about aging and becoming unable to do stairs or property maintenance.
And take the Antique Road Show – many of us enjoy that show too! People get valuations of personal treasures or family heirlooms. It’s great fun to watch – but then one gets thinking. Often, when they find the value of these possessions, they don’t sell them and do something with the money- I’m not sure they even enjoy them that much. They guard them even more carefully- for all I know that’s when they get burglar alarms or locked cupboards- and for sure they pay more insurance ! If one’s got valuable stuff, it costs both space and money to hang on to it.
Plus, how about storage units- seen in every town nowadays. Why do they do so well? They are not just used between moves.In part – and I know this from my own family- because many North Americans have more stuff than they can fit into their homes. One of my friends has set up a downsizing business- and I’m sure she’s not the only one to offer this valuable service.
I’m not saying we should live without money or stuff, or that antiques and family heirlooms and nice houses are bad. But where are we in this parable? We aren’t among the world’s poor. They don’t need more room to keep all their stuff- nor do they have to worry about what to do with it- or much less get advice about how to downsize.
So let’s suppose we are rich, compared to many. What then?
The rich farmer was not at fault because his land produced abundantly. There is nothing wrong with how he got rich. No hint that he defrauded anyone. he worked hard – he was good at farming- the weather was on his side too.
It’s about what he did with it. It’s all about him. It’s all about keeping everything , you might say, even hoarding it all. No thought of sharing any of the abundance with the hungry or helping anyone in need. It’s all about himself indulging himself as much as he wants, lots of good food and wine, partying to beat the band.
Now we know Jesus liked a party, a good time, dinner with friends. He’s asking is that all there is?
Is that all the farmer’s soul needs? Is that all his life is about?
That’s the issue, I’d say. Another rich person asks Jesus- how do I get eternal life? He says – no problem, just sell our possessions and give the money to the poor- in effect become poor yourself. The man walks away, deeply distressed. He can’t do that.
We likely won’t do that either. We do need some money, to eat and keep a roof over our head and even help pay for our medications.
But we do have choices, just as the rich farmer did. If he didn’t have to work any more, he could have looked for a way to be of service. He could have given at least some of his extra crop to the hungry,
Indeed hoarding it all probably made the hungry hungrier- as he was waiting perhaps for food shortages which would put up its price. Or he could have found other ways to help the less fortunate in perpetuity. And then the memory of his generosity would have lived on, inspiring others too to be generous.
A deeper question – does the farmer really own his possessions ? From a biblical perspective- truly we don’t own a thing. It’s all gift- even if we worked for it- our very ability to work for it is a gift.
Much less should our possessions and our wealth own us. What we have is not who we are.
And all too true, when we die, we will be letting go of all of it. Even before that, many of us will be letting go sooner – if we live long enough- if we downsize into a smaller house, or an apartment , or one room of a care facility . It’s good practice to start letting go now- bit by bit- while we can physically and mentally make choices.
And when we find we can release what we have, when we find it is not who we are, that’s when we can also be generous – way more than that farmer. If we have got a bit of time, we can consider how to be of service. If we’ve got more money and stuff than we need to survive, we can ask what can we give away, what causes can we support, how can we make life better for at least some who don’t have as much as we do. We can even apply this thinking at tax time- I don’t love paying tax but I feel better about it when I think – OK, I can spare something to help there be health care, libraries, education, social assistance and more for everyone.
I’ll reflect a bit further next week on how we live as we sit loose to our stuff.
But for now consider this. The rich farmer sells himself short-He sees himself as nothing but a consumer. Today we too are encouraged to see ourselves as consumers. And that sells us short too.
Instead the farmer and we can be citizens- citizens not only of our nation or community, but citizens of a divine realm- a realm of justice and love and generosity and compassion, a realm of abundant harvest not just for a few but for all, a realm of blessing for all whose hearts and hands and minds are open.
May you and I live as citizens of this realm. And may we indeed be blessed, and a blessing, with what we have and what we are.