Happy President’s Day!
13Someone 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 toward God.”
This question comes in the midst of controversy – conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus is explaining to his disciples, using the conflict as a teaching moment, when someone in the crowd interrupts, with his personal, family conflict. His older brother is refusing to share the inheritance with him; he, the younger, thinks it only right that he be included, although the law generally favors the older brother. Surely the Teacher will take his side!
But Jesus refused to get pulled into the brothers’ argument. Instead, he told a story, about a wealthy farmer who harvested a bumper crop one year. And he was faced with a dilemma, what to do with the abundance? The solution he came up with was to build bigger barns – and then he said to his soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul will be required of you.” The loan of life came due – the man had thought he would be happy if he only had a little more, a bigger barn – but Jesus warned that a person’s life, a person’s soul, does not consist of the abundance of their possessions. The man had tended his farm, and his crops, but he had not tended his soul. Our souls need tending.
This farmer was not a bad man – he did not steal in order to get his wealth – he simply had his priorities in the wrong place. He thought that if he had enough goods stored up in his barns he could be comfortable for the rest of his life. He did not understand that life is about more than goods, more than wealth. When wealth becomes our priority, we can easily lose our souls. Remember Ebenezer Scrooge? He had become a hoarder – so fearful of the poverty of his childhood that he clung to gold. He lost his soul in his hoarding, worshiping money, not even living comfortably in his misery. But Scrooge found another life – he was visited by ghosts who showed him what he had lost – and when he turned outward again, ceased focusing on his possessions and began focusing on the people in his life – he found new life.
The wealthy farmer in Jesus’ story does not get that second chance. His soul is demanded of him that very night. The questioner, the younger brother, does have that second chance. He can stop fighting with his brother and stop focusing on possessions and find the things that really matter in life. So can we.