Rich fool, poor fool, maybe it’s just best not to be a fool at all!
I came across a Pontius Puddle cartoon, some time ago, that has some bearing on the subject matter of our Gospel appointed for this week. Pontius Puddle is always pontificating about something. In this case he is sermonizing to a couple of his friends. With his hand raised in the air, to accentuate his moralization, he says, “There are two paths from which to choose. The first path is wide and easy and leads to wealth and power and pleasures of the flesh.” He doesn’t get to say another word and wwwhhhooosssh his two friends run off, one shouting, “COOL,” and the other saying, “WOW, LET’S GO!” To which Pontius sighs and says, “I’ve really got to remember to START with the other option first!
Do you think our Gospel today is one of those “you’ve got too many things, and what you have parked in your garage ought to be a source of guilt for you” Gospels? Should we preach sermons on this Gospel that make our listeners feel bad for owning that riding lawn mower or that automobile that cost more than their first house? Should we remind them that possessions will get the best of them and that you almost never see a U-Haul trailer behind a hearse? Is that the path we should lay out first when discussing this Gospel? I don’t think so, and the reason I don’t think so is because I don’t believe that there is such a message anywhere in the Gospels. In fact, I think that for many people the Christian faith appears somewhat irrelevant because they truly believe that while every message they receive in their lives from cradle to college says it’s a good thing to get ahead, the church is here to tell them to “give it all up!” I wonder how many stay away from church because of the conflict that comes from that misunderstanding of scripture?
I don’t think anyone really wants or needs to hear another one of those sermons, and you will never hear me preach one. This Gospel carries a much more potent message. It opens with a man who comes forth from the crowd of people and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Now it isn’t very often in the Gospels that you find Jesus disgusted, but in this case, I think he really is a bit irritated. Who wouldn’t be?
Apparently, this man’s main concern for his brother is to take him to Small Claims Court. In effect, he’s asking Jesus to be a kind of Judge Judy and to further drive a wedge between him and his brother. At the outset, let me remind you that on Judge Judy someone always leaves the loser.
Jesus isn’t disgusted because there’s an inheritance; he isn’t annoyed because they haven’t made a will and given everything to the poor. He’s disappointed because this man was part of a crowd that had been following him for quite some time and he obviously hasn’t got the point:
IT’S PEOPLE AND RELATIONSHIPS THAT COUNT!
Jesus’ ministry isn’t about running around with his little bucket putting out all the little fires of injustice. Jesus’ ministry is about the final justice which is a completely reconciled creation!
Jesus is telling them all about this wonderful kingdom, and this guy wants to re-arrange the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic.
And so, Jesus gives the man a rather curt answer. In effect he says, “Hey buddy, who appointed me District Attorney?” I think that Jesus gets a bit flippant here because he wants his disciples listening in to know that someone (whether rich or poor) who can’t find his way out of a material quarrel with his brother will be in mortal danger of missing the kingdom experience, and for Jesus there is no greater tragedy than missing a glimpse of the kingdom.
There is an old Hasidic tale about two brothers. The older brother was very rich. He had been successful in business and the world. Over the years he had never married and didn’t really have many friends. The younger brother, on the other hand had a large family, many friends, but very little money.
One day, the brothers received word that their father had died and left his land to be divided between them. They both went to stay in their father’s house while tending to his estate affairs. After the funeral, surveyors came to divide the plot equally between the two brothers. In the middle of the night, while the older brother was lying his bed, he began to think about how poor his younger brother really was and how, with his big family, he certainly could use some extra income. And so, he went out into the field in the middle of the night to move the marker that the surveyors planted so that his younger brother would have the larger portion. Meanwhile, the younger brother was lying in bed and thinking about his older brother and how alone he was, without a family of his own and without many friends. He thought about how blessed he, himself, was with his family and friends, and so he too went out into the field in the middle of the night to move the marker so that his older brother could have the larger portion.
There, in the middle of the night, in the middle of their father’s field the two brothers met. When each saw what the other was doing, they embraced and wept. Years later, the legend was that the city of Jerusalem was built upon the spot where their tears had fallen.
The Church for Christians is the new Jerusalem. The Church is where we meet and embrace our brothers and sisters in our Father’s field. What we bring beyond our embrace is secondary in God’s eyes.
Possessions are never bad in and of themselves. In Christ, we have a life that has nothing to do with those possessions. This Parable of the Rich Fool, which is part of our Gospel today, isn’t really about the evil of wealth. It’s about the unwillingness to realize that not everything is or should be in our control.
You see, when Jesus says we must take up our cross and die with him, he’s talking about dying to the notion that somehow we can go it alone. Jesus wants us to remember that we are co-creators with THE CREATOR!
Jesus didn’t say watch out you might be collecting too many things in your attic. NO! He says, “Watch out! Guard against Greed” (Verse 15).
Greed isn’t about how much you have. Greed is about what measures you will take to get it!
Greed is about the lust for power, self-sufficiency and rugged individualism carried to an extreme. Greed, like most diseases, is an equal opportunity affliction. It can afflict the poor as well as the rich because it’s not about what’s in your closet, it’s about what’s in your heart.
Personally, I believe that God is always carrying a sign that says, “All Are Welcome,” but If God should ask us any questions at the purported time of Judgement, I don’t think they will have anything to do with how many Hamilton Beach blenders or electric knives you went through in your lifetime.
They’ll be questions about how much compassion and forgiveness you were able give away in your short stay here.
The Rich Fool is foolish because he truly believes that HE is the source of everything he owns. Just listen to what he says and how he says it:
What do I do now? Since I don’t have any place to store MYcrops I know, I will tear down MY barns and build larger ones so that I can store all MY grain and MY goods.”
Look at how many times the foolish man says “I” and “My,” and to that Jesus says, “My oh my!”
The rich fool never consults with anyone, much less God. He converses only with himself. He hasn’t learned the meaning of dying as Jesus has laid it out. He doesn’t realize that all he really needs to do is to die to that self that says in concert with Paul Simon, “I am a rock, I am an Island.”
If a farmer had a bumper crop today, my guess is that they would borrow or maybe even rent space to store the excess, I doubt very many would tear down their barns and silos and build new ones.
This is good Jesus-style hyperbole to show that this man just doesn’t get it. He’d rather indulge himself in a ridiculous capital building program, than to go into his field and look for his brother.
So, let’s not send our congregations home this week worrying about their possessions. Don’t send them home worrying that they should sell their car and give all the money to the poor, and above all don’t send them off feeling guilty because they weren’t even thinking of doing either of those two things!
Instead, send them home thinking about what it means to die as Jesus uses that term. In other words, help them to think of all the ways they can enjoy all those wonderful and rich gifts God has so graciously given them, while still managing to take the time to look for their brother in their Father’s field.
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