Many years ago, in a high school journalism class, I had a teacher explain to us about the importance of correcting one’s mistakes when it came to misspelling words in print. He stated that you either correct the mistakes or keep making them until the reader begins to believe that maybe he or she is actually the one who is spelling the word wrong. This teacher was basing his statement on the fact that when someone repeats something over and over you tend to believe it.
Even if it’s a lie.
This morning Jesus takes on a falsehood. It is the idea that wealth, ownership, abundant possessions . . . the one with the most wins . . . and that this is the goal of life . . . that it will produce happiness, meaning, and security. Jesus takes on this idea . . . this falsehood . . . and proclaims it dead with a fitting eulogy by declaring that this is not being “rich toward God.”
But, wait a minute. That is not what the society we live in tells us. No, the society that we live in tells us that the more that we have or own, the more that we stockpile, the more wealth we accumulate, the better off we are. In such a state of possession and wealth we will discover happiness and meaning in our lives. This is the “good life” everyone seeks. At least that is what we are told. Because we have heard it over and over, we have a tendency to believe it . . . even if it is a lie. This is why this parable makes so many of us who are the followers of Jesus uncomfortable.
Yet, Jesus does not buy into this sense of security . . . this sense of what I would think Jesus would term as being false security. Please understand that Jesus is not taking on money, wealth, or even material abundance . . . no, what he is talking about is that insatiable drive that turns people inward towards themselves because they feel as if they do not have enough. And, that until they have enough or more than enough, they are nothing . . . no meaning, no purpose. Until this is accomplished there is no “good life”.
Jesus debunks this falsehood with a parable that we have heard over and over again in many different forms across the span of our lives. He tells of a wealthy farmer who—in an abundant year—is suddenly faced with a real, but nice, problem of having to do something with the abundance of grain. What he decides to do is to tear down his older and smaller barns, build bigger and better ones, and store his grain for a more or less rainy day when he might need it. Upon completing this task the wealthy farmer declares that he can now take life easy . . . “eat, drink, and be merry” because he has all the bases covered. Unfortunately, the wealthy farmer learns the hard way that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring. In the case of this guy, God lets him know that he is a goner. Then God poses a question: “Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
The good fortune of this farmer has created a problem for him. The good fortune has changed his focus, or as one commentator said, it “has curved his vision.” It has curved his vision so that everything that he sees starts and ends with himself. If one listens closely to the parable . . . listens closely to the conversation that the farmer is having with himself . . . the dominate word that is used is “I”. It is a very egocentric conversation. For this reason God declares the farmer a fool. The farmer has fallen to the falsehood that it is what one has that determines the good life. This is the exact thing that Jesus warns against.
What is the good life that Jesus speaks about?
The good life that Jesus speaks about is relationships . . . relationships with God and one another. Over and over again this idea of relationships is emphasized by Jesus in the words that he speaks and the actions that he takes in all four of the gospels. The good life is about relationships . . . how we relate to God . . . how we relate to one another. Never does Jesus speak about building abundance of possessions or wealth as a part of seeking out God’s kingdom.
Most of us, if not all of us, know and believe what Jesus says is true. We would also agree that money cannot buy happiness . . . while at the same time we would sure like to give it a try. We know that what is important is how we relate to God and one another . . . how we love one another. Yet, it is difficult when we keep hearing the falsehood over and over again . . . we are enticed and seduced by the message of prosperity and possessions, just as the wealthy farmer was. It makes living life difficult. It makes life difficult because we want to take care of ourselves and make sure that we are safe and secure.
Such an attitude doesn’t put much stock into our faith in God . . . God who has stated to us that we will be taken care of . . . provided for . . . loved. The focus of the farmer was on himself. In his estimation he had done more than enough to insure his future well-being. The only one he was concerned with was himself. He had covered his bases.
Remember what his problem was? He had an over-abundance of grain from a great crop. He didn’t know what he was going to do with it all. He had other options, but he chose to focus upon himself. For example, instead of wasting the money to tear down and build bigger and better barns, why couldn’t he have filled up those original barns to the brim. In the past that had been more than enough to meet his needs. Then he could have taken what was left over and actually paid those who had helped to make the crop such an overwhelming success . . . he could have rewarded his workers for helping to build his success. He could have given a share or a tithe of the crop to the local synagogue . . . after all, the scriptures state a tithe of a tenth of everything belongs to God. He could have taken what was left after rewarding his workers and giving a tithe and given it to the community at large . . . especially those who did not have enough to eat. He had lots of options, but he chose to only focus on himself.
In order for him to have seen such opportunities, he would have had to have relationships in his life . . . a relationship with others whether they be his workers or the people of the community in which he participated . . . a relationship with God. His belief in a falsehood, in the end, killed him.
Thus it is that Jesus speaks out against this falsehood. Speaks out against it because it goes against the whole message that he preaches and teaches about relationships with God and one another. Relationships are the foundation of the faith Jesus shares . . . relationships bring life, love, mercy, and community. This is what God wants for us . . . all things that money cannot buy. Relationships are what matter. In the end, when we die, no one will speak about what we owned. No, they will speak about how well we love. To have love there must be a relationship . . . a relationship between us and God . . . a relationship with others. Such is a wealth and abundance that brings purpose and meaning to life. Such is what God will provide if we truly believe and trust.
May this falsehood rest in peace . . . once and for always. Amen.