"A Fool and his Money"
Nov.25/07 Lk 12:13-21
Did you know Jesus had a sideline? Besides being an itinerant Rabbi, he was also a Financial Adviser. He counsels us, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." (Lu 12:33)
This world's material goods, and life itself, are so temporary. Not much can be truly protected from thieves or other destructive agents. One night this past week Yvonne an I had cozied up on the couch to watch a video. About halfway through, there was a slight skittering sound and, just out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a slipper-sized furry shape exit the doorway out into the next room. Yikes! Was it really...Could it be...? However we were pretty cozy so I didn't want to jump up right away to go investigate. Not long after, I heard the mousetrap go off - it had been left in a 'set' position on the floor next to the fridge. Maybe that was the end of that. But no - shortly after, I could hear bumping noises coming from the direction of the kitchen. After the video was done, before going to bed, I checked the situation: no mouse to be seen, so I re-set the trap with a fresh raisin and retired for the night.
About quarter after one in the morning I was awakened to a loud gnawing sound coming from the kitchen cupboards. Enough was enough! I got up and turned the light on. Again the trap had been sprung, with no captive to show for it. There was a scurrying noise coming from the front hall closet. I went and got the old straw broom from the back door. When I opened the closet door, a struggle ensued over the course of the next five minutes. Yvonne must have thought I was engaged in mortal combat from the grunts and yells I emitted from my Pjs! But eventually victory was won - and my opponent lay lifeless on the linoleum, a rat about 15" long from whisker to tail. The culprit had been conquered. I could go back to bed. As I drifted off to sleep I felt pretty pleased with myself, commending myself upon my hand-to-paw fighting skills. After a bit I caught myself and lifted hands in silent prayer, thanking God for His help in deliverance from pests, appreciating that our home was once again secure. Then, after praying, I contemplated emailing the photo I'd taken of the vanquished enemy off to the kids with a subject line like "Father Dow's Midnight Trophy".
Before I got back to sleep, however, the stillness of the night was interrupted by a rustling noise coming from the closet. Oh no - it can't be! But it was, as scurrying noises soon confirmed. The sense of security and coziness vanished like a mirage. I was too tired to get up and investigate. Maybe this one was just a little mouse instead...
Not at all. In the morning, when I went to give Misty the cat her food, I opened the door to find a large grey rodent climbing quickly up the plumber's helper to the top of the bathroom counter. The chase was on. This time I was not so victorious, managing only to wound the invader. Security, it seems, is so tentative!
Thieves break in; moths destroy; rust requires car oiling; rats wreak havoc. Life sometimes seems a constant struggle against intruders that would destroy. A local news article reports police are urging car-owners to lock their vehicles, lest they aid thieves and drug users in perpetuating their evil habits. When my oldest brother owned a home in Grimsby, one night when they were away thieves backed a truck up to the door and made off with valuable appliances an furniture. How vulnerable that must make you feel after the fact!
Not just security of our homes, but life itself is fragile, fleeting. On October 18, a man who attended the Fellowship Baptist Church in Abbotsford BC was at a Surry apartment to do scheduled maintenance on a gas fireplace. Ed Schellenberg, 55, told his brother-in-law and nephew, who worked with him in the family business, that they could go home early that Friday afternoon. Not long after that, Ed became one of two innocent bystanders killed during a gruesome multiple murder at the apartment that claimed a total of 6 lives. There would be no weekend for Ed to enjoy with his wife and two children: his life was suddenly cut short.
How do we respond in a world where threats and the unforeseen attack our sense of security? The 'consumer' answer seems to be to surround ourselves with more and more 'stuff'. It's ironic that so-called 'Black Friday' - the traditional crazy chaotic pre-Christmas spending spree in the US - comes the very next day after the American Thanksgiving, when everyone is supposed to be thankful and appreciative for what they already have. (It's called 'black Friday' not because it's bad for business, but because the expenditures on that single day often mark the first time in the calendar year the retailers' books shift from red ink to being 'in the black'.)
As Christmas approaches, we suddenly find ourselves inundated with more and more flyers - buy this, get that, look at this door-crasher special. But the Bible warns us that looking to material possessions for security is folly. Jesus teaches us that real security comes from a source much different from big solid buildings with impressive inventories, however burglar- or rodent-proof they may be.
More in Stock Not Necessarily More Security
In Luke 12:13, Jesus' preaching is interrupted by a rather mundane request: someone in the crowd tells Him to order their brother to divide the inheritance with them. But the Lord refuses to get drawn into an estate-distribution debate, replying (14), "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" He was able to say 'no' to things that weren't in His job-description. Just because you're Messiah doesn't mean you have to get involved in every mess! He was more interested in matters of soul and spirit than in ordinary disputes that could be settled by a magistrate. So He proceeds to draw a teaching point from the request, perhaps because He suspects the younger brother is dissatisfied with the normal 2/3 : 1/3 split suggested by Deuteronomy 21(17)'s requirement that the eldest brother inherit a double portion.
V15, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Or as NLT puts it, "Life is not measured by how much you own." If that's NOT life, what is it supposed to be about? We'll come back to that later.
Beware! Guard against "the greedy desire to have more, covetousness, avarice". To illustrate, Jesus tells a somewhat humorous parable about a farmer with a happy problem. His fields were so fertile they produced a good crop. He's faced with the predicament (v17), "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops." He has not done anything wicked or dishonest, it's just that the Lord has blessed him with bumper yields. What to do with it? What indeed - what most people would do, try to keep it! He's just following standard business practice. V18, "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.'"
But bigger is not always better. To merely bump up his capacity is closed-minded thinking, he can't 'think outside the barn(box)'; it doesn't even occur to him to be generous. He's blind to any need that there may be around him. He doesn't consider a freewill offering out of gratitude to God, or contributing to the Levitical relief ministry to the poor.
V19 captures the self-absorbed view of Farmer Fred. I can just imagine the Lord, as the world's best-ever storyteller, putting real character and humour into these lines - sucking on a piece of grass, pulling on His suspenders (or whatever they wore back then); the NIV loses something compared to the NRSV or King James because the word 'psyche' is repeated in the Greek as if he's actually dialoguing with himself. "And I'll say to myself, "[Self(!)],You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."" You've got it made, fella! Sit back, relax, put up your feet, and just lap it up. Sounds like the dream of the lottery commercials. You've hit the jackpot! Never need to lift a finger for the rest of your life! (how true that was)
Farmer Fred develops a split personality rather than splitting the proceeds. Other people are so far out of his frame of reference that he degenerates to conversing with himself. He presumptively and selfishly gives himself permission to be greedy, gluttonous, complacent, and ignorant (like an isolated hermit). The tenses of 'take life easy' and 'be merry' are present rather than aorist, in the direction of "keep on resting, keep on being merry". In a short couple of sentences he uses the pronoun "I" 6 times, and "my" 5 times: "my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods, myself..." My, my, my!
Back in David's time, he encountered a selfish penny-pinching rancher named Nabal, whose name means 'fool'. Nabal had a similar possessive problem when it came time to pay David's men for their security services, safeguarding his flocks. Note the resemblance as in 1Samuel 25:11 Nabal says, "Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?" Like Farmer Fred, Nabal thought the universe should revolve around himself and his wants.
Farmer Fred talks to himself rather than turning to God in grateful prayer; nevertheless, God interrupts his daydream with an undreamt-of rebuke. Feel the force of it as God says to him (v20), "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" The word 'fool' translates a word meaning "without sense or reason", he's 'sense-less'. He's presuming to assure his soul of perpetual satisfaction, while within hours God is going to 'ask back' his soul from him. Life is a TRUST, not something to take for granted. Farmer Fool's plans are about to become void and pointless; the NRSV better conveys the rhetorical thrust of the grammatical structure - "And the things you have prepared, WHOSE will they be?" No reply; but the obvious answer is, Others - whom the farmer never once considered.
What is the height of foolishness? To leave God out of the picture. Psalm 14:1, "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."" And when you kick God out, who else but yourself is going to sit on that throne? Self becomes supreme. At the same time, other people become suddenly demoted from peers to slaves, to be ordered around or ignored in pursuit of fulfilling self's wishes. But we're only fooling ourselves; God reserves the right to Lordship.
We are completely dependent on God's timing and sovereignty; He blesses the crops, He can take life away just as easily. James 4(13-15) warns against presumption: "Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."" The fool presumed he would go on living a long time to enjoy what he'd stored up; he failed to consider what God's will might be instead.
The commentaries highlight at least 3 aspects of Farmer Fred's folly. A) It was foolish of him to hoard his surplus instead of using it for the good of others. B) Ownership of goods deceived him into thinking he owned time also; it was foolish of him to forget that life is uncertain, and make no provision for its end. C) It was foolish of him to seek to satisfy the soul with food, drink, and merriment; God designed our inner person to be satisfied chiefly in Him, not with earthly husks.
Valuing the Kingdom and the Father's Pleasure
We don't want to be like the fool in Jesus' story. What SHOULD he have done instead?
A first step would have been to offer God the firstfruits of the fields' increase. Offering reminds us that all we have is from God, a trust to be managed for Him. In 11:42 Jesus tells the Pharisees they should have practised justice and the love of God without neglecting to tithe - giving a tenth of all they had. New Testament giving is regular (1Cor.16:2 suggests weekly), proportional (in keeping with each one's income), generous not grudging, and as a conscious consequence of God's grace abounding in our lives (2Cor 9:6-11).
But what we give externally is meant to reflect our orientation to God, our passion for what He wants, in our heart. V31 in Luke 12 says we're not to set our heart on what unbelievers run after, but to "seek [God's] Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well." Jesus insists that the Father "has been pleased to give you the Kingdom" (32). Knowing that, experiencing His grace and death-shattering security, frees us to sell our possessions and give to the poor (33) - converting earthly perishables into "treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted..."
V21 contrasts 'storing up things for oneself' with being 'rich toward God'. What does that mean, 'rich toward God'? James (2:5) says those who are 'rich in faith' have been chosen by God to "inherit the Kingdom He promised for those who love Him". So being rich toward God doesn't have to do with how many dollars you put in the offering plate, but how much of yourself you put in - whether you're loving God lavishly, embracing the Kingdom, letting its principles and the Holy Spirit guide your plans.
Asking what pleases God frees us from bondage to selfishness, so we can see how to invest our goods in ways that matter, allowing His love and faithfulness to impact others' lives. Paul could have been preaching to Farmer Fred when he wrote to Timothy, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain (here today, gone tomorrow - either it or you!), but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." (1Ti 6:17_19)
Modelling What's Important in Life
Farmer Fool left no real legacy, just some assets to be re-distributed. But there is another kind of legacy that, though intangible, is much more impressive. At the beginning I referred to Ed Schellenberg's untimely death as an innocent bystander. ChristianWeek reports some very interesting observations people made at his funeral and in the days following. (Over 1,000 people attended the memorial service.) Someone from the Bible College where Ed had served as a janitor described him as a man who "quietly modeled his Christian faith with dedication to his work, warm humour and kind spirit." Through tributes to him at the service, "the name of Jesus Christ was put on the national news broadcasts, and the faith and trust that Ed had in Him was spoken sincerely." Sounds like he trusted in God rather than wealth. The associate pastor at Ed's church notes his death seems to have hit the men of the church especially hard. He expects a renewed commitment and, as he puts it, "involvement in the things that matter, the important things, as we've seen this touch so close to home." He adds, "We've already had a number of men come up and say, 'We need to get something going together as men, because we need to be men like Ed was."
Ed didn't have multiple barns and granaries overflowing like the rich fool; but what he had was REAL, it was most important, it mattered. His kindness and trust in Jesus causes others in retrospect to want what he had, to 'be men like Ed was'. That's life that's more than just the abundance of possessions. Let's pray.