Luke 12: 13- 21
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
While a man was polishing his new car, his 6 yr old son picked up a stone and scratched lines on the side of the car. In anger, the man took the child’s hand and hit it many times; not realizing he was using a wrench
At the hospital, the child lost all his fingers due to multiple fractures. When the child saw his father…..with painful eyes he asked, ‘Dad when will my fingers grow back?’ The man was so hurt and speechless; he went back to his car and kicked it a lot of times. Devastated by his own actions. Sitting in front of that car he looked at the scratches; the child had written
‘LOVE YOU DAD’.
The next day that man committed suicide.
The story tries to point to the fact that “Things are to be used and people are to be loved. But the problem in today’s world is that, People are used and things are loved”
This definitely is a very sad and revolting story. But it helps us enter into the heart of this parable where we have made space for possessions and displaced God and relationships. Jesus is dragged into a feud between two brothers. The man in this passage is the younger brother as the elder brother gets the inheritance. The younger brother wants Jesus to be on his side which is clear by his demand “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (vs 13). This man represents our certain tendencies of prayers where we want Jesus to do just as we demand. Jesus refuses to be such an arbiter and then turns the conversation in a different direction.” Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (vs 15). I will like to pause for a minute before we go ahead.
J.P.S Uberoi is a sociologist who says that a product has 3 lives;
a) Machine Life,
b) Market Life,
c) Vogue Life.
Machine life is the intended life that the machine will sustain till it crashes out. Market life is the sustainability in the market and vogue life depends on the trend that is around. Today we are all defined by our possessions like cars, bikes, ipads and mobile phones. A mobile phone has a machine life of 10 years, a market life of 7 years but the vogue life today is just a matter of 1 and half years. In the search for the latest and the best, the vogue life will soon reduce to 6 months on an average. Vogue life depends on the desire to acquire consumer goods and to be updated and to be cool. So when you get a Samsung Galaxy Ace, in 6 months’ time, you feel you need a Samsung Note 3. In another 6 months you go for the best iPhone 5s or whatever. So what has happened, he says, is we have made our life a set of junk yard where the outdated goods is worthy of a museum or an addition to the ever increasing waste on this earth. And it is on these very temporary goods that we stake our life and prestige on. Jesus at the outset warns that no goods or possessions will satisfy you. All it will do is increase your appetite for it which is never ending.
Now let us come to the parable where there is a rich man who had a very good harvest. And there he has a dilemma what to do with it. How to preserve it? He wants to tear down and build a bigger barn. Church father Ambrose says, that a better way to preserve the abundance of his harvest was to put it in the mouth of the poor. Well, the rich man thought otherwise! Storing the grains in bigger barns gave him the right to celebrate So when this rich man had achieved his bounty and had come of age what does he have? To whom will he give his success speech? Where are the village elders, family, friends, cousins, wife, and children? When the prodigal son came, even he had the whole village celebrating his arrival. But this man has only himself to talk with. He and his loneliness (Mai aur meri Tanhai aksar ye baate kiya karte hai types) celebrate his imagined barn and real abundance. He believes that all you need in life is yourself and a whole lot of possession to keep you happy. It is here that God thunders him with those words “You fool.” He is shattering the myth of being self-sufficient. The word ‘fool’ used in the text is translated from the original Greek word aphron.Phron in greek means spirit. Spirit signifies life. So aphron means being spiritless. In a way it talks about being dead. The man with his wealth has bought a mansion, barn, possessions and whole lot of ‘loneliness’. Even before the question of death that God poses him, God says “You are a living dead.” Don’t we know a whole lot of people who could be called ‘living dead’. We could be one of them. The real meaning of the question that God poses is this, “When your life is demanded of you who will get what you have accumulated? You have no one. You have invested in things and driven away people out of your life. Can you carry the goods to your tomb? What use will it be?
My friend this parable is for you and me. In a race to get ahead in life we have invested heavily in accumulating materials and possessions. Like the rich man we forgot that this life and its beauty is a gift from God. Living in relation with God and loving your family, friends, and neighbor is the only treasure that we are left with. There is a very important part in the Mar Thoma Liturgy for the Funeral that says, “Itha nammude avasanam engil dhanwanmar thangalude dhanathine kurichu ahangarikyunnathu enthinnu?” (If this is our end why should the rich take pride in the riches?)
Well, if you see the question is left unanswered in the parable. Because it is to be answered by the hearers and readers. So the questions my friend is ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ What is your answer?
The ending verse is, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (vs 21)
What does it mean to be rich towards God?. Let me introduce you to Rev. Kurien George who is a prophetic voice of the Church. He is the former director of Navjeevan Centre, Mumbai. As a director, Achen at times used to polish the shoes of the children of Navjeevan to demonstrate the attitude of Jesus where he washes the feet of his disciples. Recently he put up an FB update. Let me quote some part of it;
“Mr. A has four children ( Age: girl-17, boys- 15, 11 & 9). His wife was diagnosed with cancer and has undergone treatment at Trivandrum. Her present condition is not known as she has not been for a check up for sometime. Mr. A does not own a house and lives in rented accommodation. He has been asked to vacate by the 31st of this month. He has nowhere to go. He is not very able to manage his own affairs. He drinks if someone offers him –this may be once in six months (may be to forget his crisis). He has no social support from his community.”
Now after that he adds his intervention;
“ I have been supporting him for the last few years by providing him employment and also giving him some financial help every once in a while. He looks emaciated and underweight. A year back he came to me at night saying that there was no food and I sent him sufficient provisions for a few days. Last two years during the lean season I bought him provisions for three months as he did not get a regular job anywhere, this was in addition to giving him some odd jobs at my home. Three months back I realized that he would not survive on what I gave him and also to have some accountability I put him on a monthly salary of rupees ten thousand. He came to me the yesterday and wept as he had not eaten anything since the previous night and his wife could not walk as she had a wound on her feet. I took her to the hospital at night and got her leg cleaned and dressed up. After this I bought him six packets of bread and a bottle of jam. I asked him what were his plans for food today and he said that the family was surviving on the food I bought him yesterday. I plan to give him his salary in advance to enable him to buy provisions. I also told him to ensure that the minimum requirements for the month should be bought and kept so that this crisis is not repeated.
He ends his update with this uncomfortable question;
Why does not the gospel filter down to give life to the persons who are living in these kinds of situations?
We have pulpits and altars (secure places for good homilies and emotional deliveries) but Jesus walked the streets of life and saw the pain face to face. I know that there will not be many takers for my posting, as I have seen from my past experiences but I do hope that for those who do read them you may just start thinking that the time is running short for our ivory tower Christianity. He said, “I was hungry you gave me food…” He said “ If someone asks for you to go one mile go two, if someone asks you for your coat give him your cloak as well..”
In my conversation, Achen said that he plans to sell some part of his property to help this man. He with his life has proved what it is to live the gospel and to be rich towards God. He poses a challenge to us. Are you ready to invest in people by living out the gospel? I do not know what my answer is. We all have to give our own answers.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrian Church