Vain Possessions

Week of Sunday August 4 - Pentecost 11
Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And 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.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?”18Then 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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But 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?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

We can imagine the older brother getting converted. The younger brother would pony up and say, "Hey! Now that you are a Christian, you should share and share alike, even if you are the older brother!"

The average older brother, at this point, tells younger brothers where to go. But they don't take his advice. Instead they go to Jesus and try and get him onside; their side. "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me."

The fact that the man addresses Jesus only as Teacher is Luke's pointer to his limited understanding of the Way and what Jesus is about. Luke and his community have learned a lesson from Jesus: it's not who gets the money which is the issue. What's important is what the money does to you!

 ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 

Jesus was hardly saying something original here! We don't need any help to understand the parable either.  We can have "ample goods laid up for many years," but it all counts for nothing if we are dying. A silk lined coffin, even cedar with ivory inlaid, is still just a box for a body. And we will still be dead.

What is it that makes life worthwhile? What is it that, when our life is required of us, will leave us at peace rather than raging into the night? In the long nights before that final one, and in lonely days when all we can do is remember and reflect, when there is no going back, what will be the source of peace?

Is there a peace  "that weeps, knows anguish, sometimes does not know and does not have answers, but keeps believing in the worth God wants us to have…?"

We say that this peace does not lie "in the abundance of possessions," but I suspect we scarcely know what we are talking about. We live surrounded by more possessions than most people in the world have ever had, but are not necessarily happier. We lust and plot after more, and remain unsatisfied. We come to blows in the supermarket car park because we must park two rows further away to wheel our trolley full of Coke to the car, while elsewhere children cart water five and six kilometres on their head, each day, just to survive. While their mother cooks their one meagre meal on a manure fire, we complain about the cost of electricity.

In determining what it means to be 'rich toward God' it is never a question, for us, of whether we are impoverished by our possessions, but only how much. If even the culture of Jesus, where poverty was the norm, found greed for possessions to be a problem, how much more will it be so for us?

Poverty toward God means to live life without God, or separated from God.  It is life lived on our own, for ourselves. For this reason "simple living" can be just as poor as the rich man with all his barns. Outwardly and noisily pious religious adherence can also be a poverty. What impoverishes us is life lived for ourselves, life which fails to see Jesus in the people around us.

A good rule of thumb test of our richness towards God is Matthew 25.

"Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.” 

Neither is it a sin to have possessions, or to enjoy life.

Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. 8Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. 9Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)

The philosopher of Ecclesiastes, without hope of resurrection, was more at peace with himself and with God than many a grim Christian who has made any hint of joie de vivre into a sin.

For all this, greed for possessions is our 'drug of choice.' It is the all-pervasive drug that is so much a part of our lives we are blind to its presence.

When I bought the computer on which I am writing, I had a choice of 30 different model laptops in that one store alone. The development of this laptop has depended not upon human need for love and dignity, but upon planned obsolescence fuelled by greed for the latest and greatest, whether needed or not—and usually not—all part of an industrial behemoth driving us toward cataclysmic climate change that may destroy us.

A recent Leunig cartoon says

Today's Puzzle

What's wrong with the following words?


pity, sympathy, empathy, fellow feeling, care, concern,
solicitude, sensitivity, warmth, love, tenderness, mercy,
lenience, tolerance, kindness, humanity, charity.

Under this is drawn a small boat of the kind which brings refugees to Australia, seeking some kind of peace and fulfilment.

The answer to Leunig's question: If you let them in they could ruin your way of life.

Why refugees who come by boat should cause this problem, but not those who come by air, gives the lie to our irrational xenophobic terror about refugees. The Prime Minister feels his only way to achieve re-election is to enact barbarity that would appal his idol Bonhoeffer.

He wrote this

Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst. That is why the government's proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches. We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust, when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of Germany and the other occupied countries of Europe who sought asylum during the '30s.

But now Kevin Rudd is the Prime Minister in a government that has itself excised the Australian mainland from the Australian migration zone and adopted its very own "PNG Solution." He leads a government whose policy on asylum seekers is inevitably "the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches." Andrew Dutney


Rudd has been rightly savaged over this. But what drives him? He is driven by our love of possessions and security! If he is not inhuman to refugees, we will not re-elect him! Australia is so gripped by the drug which separates it from God, that the fisherman who says to the refugee Hieu Van Le as he sails into Darwin Harbour, "Welcome to Australia, mate" seems as unlikely a myth as the idea that Hieu would one day be Lieutenant Governor of South Australia.

Life is an unfolding spiral of learning, being converted, and beginning again. Our understanding of what it means to be rich toward God, and our repenting of what keeps us away from God, will not cease while we are alive. There is an art to be learned here, in this "living under the sun," and our relationship with God will mystify us much as any other precious relationship. It cannot be dictated or defined for us by others.

One thing is clear: ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ If we do not learn this lesson, we will make our possessions into the heaviest of burdens which we will carry everywhere.

Andrew Prior

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!



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