The proper attitude to money

Dependence on wealth

Money

Pentecost 10

Luke 12:13-21

Marian Free

In the name of God in whose love is all the security we need. Amen.

The author of Luke’s gospel has quite a deal to say about money. It is Luke who makes it explicit that the disciples leave everything and follow him and Luke’s picture of the early church in Acts is one in which members sell everything and give the proceeds to the church (with disastrous results for those who withhold anything). For the author of Luke, discipleship quite clearly means complete trust in God. Unfortunately for us, the lectionary doesn’t allow us to put today’s gospel in context. Last week, we were looking at prayer, this week we are propelled forward into the prophetic teaching of Jesus without the advantage of any lead up. On its own, the parable is a condemnation of the accumulation of wealth, but the context gives the parable a much broader meaning.

The parable of the rich man does not occur in isolation. In chapters 11-14, Luke places Jesus’ teaching about the end and about judgement. As he turns to face Jerusalem, Jesus is aware that his own time is near. He has a sense of urgency about preparing those around him to be ready for the end (whether it is close at hand or a long way off). Being prepared for the end in Jesus’ view begins, by placing all one’s trust in God. He suggests that if believers trust God with their present (as indeed he does), they can be confident of their future. Awareness of the end and of judgement pervades Christian thought – the idea that we are accountable for what we do in this life plays an important role in determining how we live our lives. At the same time, awareness that life is finite reminds us that it is how we live now that is important – tomorrow may be too late – to do the right thing, to tell someone we love them, to exercise forgiveness, to place our trust in God.

Jesus’ teaching about judgement and the end is not meant to terrify, or hold us in its thrall – just the opposite. The Pharisees come in for some harsh criticism – for their hypocrisy, for pre-occupation with the external, for their concentration on minute details of the law while ignoring the broader issues of justice and mercy and for seeking attention for themselves. Jesus’ disciples on the other hand are given encouragement and confidence. They need not be afraid, God who does not forget the sparrows knows the number of hairs on their heads. Even in the face of persecution, God will not abandon them, but will give them what it is they are to say.

Trust in the present, provides security for the future: “do not fear those who can kill the body and after that can do nothing more”. If believers can place all their trust in God, then they have nothing to fear in this life or the next. This is illustrated by the parable in today’s gospel.

Jesus’ teaching is interrupted by an onlooker who want Jesus to arbitrate on matters of family inheritance. Jesus will not be drawn into the dispute, but he takes advantage of the question to press home the point that he is making – that trust in the present relates to security in the future. Jesus criticizes the questioner for his greed and for his dependence on “abundance of possessions” He illustrates his point with the parable of the successful farmer, who, on having produced abundantly can only think of how to store up his wealth, and who relies on his wealth for his future security. No amount of wealth however can provide the landowner with life. His death demonstrates that he has been pre-occupied with the wrong things. He was worried about how to store the grain for himself. He was not at all concerned with sharing from his abundance and his determination to build bigger store houses demonstrated his failure to trust God with his future.

Trust in God becomes the focus of the next section of teaching in which Jesus instructs the disciples not to worry about their lives, what they will eat and what they will wear – worry will not add even a single hour to their lives. Trust in God is the only security that a believer needs and in the end, trust in and dependence on God is the only security that is real.

The landowner’s problem was not that he was rich, but that he looked to his wealth to hedge himself around, to provide a secure future for himself not realizing that placing one’s trust worldly possessions is foolish. As the parable demonstrates, no amount of worldly possessions can protect one from harm. If we believe that we can use wealth or any other earthly form of security to keep us safe from the vagaries of the world, then we are placing our trust in the wrong place and it is likely that, like the man in the parable we will be caught out when we least expect it and when we are least prepared.

If, on the other hand, we have entrusted our future to God, we will not be distracted or absorbed by trying to escape or avoid the realities of this life only to discover that ultimately such escape is beyond our control. If our relationship with God comes first, we will be grateful for but not dependent on wealth and other forms of worldly security. If our relationship with God determines how we approach this life, not only will discover the strength and confidence to face any difficulties that lie in our paths, we will also be prepared for the relationship with God that outlasts this life.

As he turns his face to Jerusalem and his own certain torture and death, Jesus tries to encourage his follows to trust God with their present and their future. Nothing in this life is certain or permanent. The only thing that is true for eternity is our relationship with God. Instead of placing our faith in the things that do not last, let us place our trust in the things that endure for ever.

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