Meditation on Luke 12:13-21
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
Aug. 4, 2019
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And 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.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
It’s good to be back with you! I am grateful to Reverend Hoover for preaching and leading worship last week so that I might visit my parents in Florida. This time, I traveled by air, so my first challenge was packing the suitcase. Does anyone else have trouble packing the suitcase? I blame my mother. It’s all her fault. When we were kids, and we were getting ready for the annual Florida car trip to visit our grandparents, Mom used to make each of us a packing list. Mine included: an outfit for every day–shorts, shirts, underwear and socks, bathing suit and cover up–and then dress clothes–slacks and a dress– for going to a restaurant and church. Assorted toiletries and a sweatshirt for cool nights walking on the boardwalk. A cardigan sweater, because the air conditioning in public places in Florida is always on full blast. Several pairs of shoes–sandals, flip flops for the beach or pool, sneakers and dress shoes. Then we each brought our pillows for napping in the car and sleeping at Grandma’s. Library books, cards, drawing paper, pens and other things to occupy our attention during the 15-hour car ride, which can seem like a REALLY long time when you are a kid, trapped in the back seat with your siblings. Mom took care of packing snacks and drinks. When we got cranky and bored, “Mom, are we there, yet?” She would bribe us with red licorice.
And now that I am grown, I have even more stuff to bring. I pack my own snacks and drinks. Money and ID, medication and vitamins, makeup and jewelry, Hair dryer. Extra clothes for exercising. Shoes to match my outfits. Shoes can really add weight to a suitcase!
And then there’s electronics– phone, laptop or IPAD and the cords and chargers. Earphones, if you want to listen to movies or music on the plane.
And I still bring my pillow with me, even though my parents have lots of pillows. Does anyone have a special pillow?
I was so proud of myself when I got it all into one large suitcase on wheels–AND it came in at under 50 pounds, so I didn’t have to pay extra at baggage drop.
I had to change planes in Atlanta–and that’s a fun place to hang out for a little while. People complain about Atlanta airport, but really, it’s a great, big shopping mall. I don’t usually shop but I did stop at a bookstore. I only planned to be in there a minute. But I took too long choosing my murder mystery. When I got back to my gate, the plane doors had already been closed. The flight attendant said I was 5 minutes too late.
So my perfectly packed suitcase, filled with everything I needed for the journey and back was on a plane headed for Daytona. And I was still in Atlanta.
At least I had a good book to read, while I waited for the next flight. But I couldn’t concentrate and was filled with anxiety, not just because my poor mom would be picking me up at the airport at midnight, but because I kept thinking, “What if my suitcase is lost?”
It strikes me, at first, as kind of funny that a stranger in the crowd would ask Jesus to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him. Why should Jesus care about such things? But as we read on, it helps to remember that Jesus often has conversations with rich people–and this person has probably been raised in a wealthy family if he is coveting his brother’s inheritance. One of Jesus’ conversations with rich people ends with him telling his disciples in Matthew 19:24, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Ever notice that Jesus talks about money and things more than he talks about many other topics, including prayer? The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10 will also warn against greed, writing, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Whenever Jesus talks about material things, he does it with the underlying assumption that everything and everyone belong to God. This is a foundational belief in the faith in which he was raised. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” We know from the New Testament that this foundational belief continues with Christianity. For in the Early Church, there was no private property. The writer of Acts 2:44-45 says, “Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.” When Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 sell a piece of property, but keep part of the proceeds and lie about it to the faith community, they are severely punished.
It’s interesting to me that Jesus doesn’t immediately take on this man’s cause in Luke 12. Why shouldn’t the brother be made to share the inheritance? Isn’t he the one being greedy if he refuses to share? We don’t know if it is a large amount of money and property. With Jesus’ warning against greed and the parable he tells about the foolish rich man who needs a bigger barn to store his grain so he can eat, drink and be merry in an idle lifestyle, we are probably talking about a lot of money and property. But it doesn’t have to be a lot of stuff before stuff becomes a problem for us.
Author Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX, suggests that this parable be renamed, “A Place for Your Stuff.” She reminds us of the late comedian George Carlin’s monologue about stuff. “You got your stuff with you? I’ll bet you do. Guys have stuff in their pockets. Women have stuff in their purses… Stuff is important. You gotta take care of your stuff. That’s what life is all about, trying to find a place for your stuff? That’s all your house is, a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off on an airplane,” he says. “You look down and see all the little piles of stuff. Everybody’s got his own little pile of stuff.”
So this man who approaches Jesus in Luke 12–he wants his brother to give some of his stuff to him so that he will be the proud owner of stuff, too. Do you wonder why the man doesn’t just ask the brother himself for the stuff? This is where this story reminds me of Mary and Martha. Do you get the feeling that the man has already asked his brother to share his stuff? And what did the brother say? No, in no uncertain terms. Or the man wouldn’t have asked Jesus to help him. Now the two brothers aren’t talking, anymore!
That’s why Jesus asks, “Friend, who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you?” The Greek word translated “arbitrator” is literally “divider.” Stuff and money has come between two brothers and destroyed their relationship.
This is a warning to all of us, who like our stuff. We don’t have to have a lot of stuff to fall to the temptation of liking our stuff too much. We actually don’t have to have any stuff to make stuff an idol. Rich and poor and in between. Everyone has the problem of liking and worrying too much about stuff.
Jesus is saying to us, “Life isn’t about stuff.” It’s about love–love of God. Love of people. “One’s life,” Jesus says in Luke 12, “does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” “I came,” he says in John 10:10, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Returning from my visit with my parents, I didn’t once think about the contents of my suitcase, though I admit, I did have even more stuff in the suitcase on the return trip than I did going there. But I didn’t get caught browsing too long in a bookstore or any store at Atlanta airport.
I fought back tears as I said goodbye to Mom at Daytona airport. I had already said goodbye to Dad at the nursing home with a lump in my throat, wondering when I would see him again–and how his health would be the next time I see him.
“I miss you so much!” I said to my mom, giving her a hug as an airline employee prepared to roll my big, blue suitcase away, taking with him nothing that cannot be replaced or lived without.
For life isn’t about stuff. It’s about love.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, why do we love our stuff so much? Forgive us for our idolatry. Please help us so that stuff doesn’t become the root of jealousy and greed and destroy relationships with family and friends. Teach us how to live without idolizing stuff and money and never being satisfied with what we have–always wanting more and then needing a bigger place to store our stuff. Stir us to let go of stuff and money and give generously so that no one will go without, as they did in the Early Church. Empower us by your Spirit to love as your Son showed us love and to call all people our friends. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.