Sunday, 4 August 2013

No pockets in a shroud

Sunday Gospel

Luke 12:13-21

A man in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.’ ‘My friend,’ he replied, ‘who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’

Then he told them a parable: ‘There was once a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, “What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” But God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?.” So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’

The question may seem simple enough and sincere enough to warrant the Rabbi's attention. It seems to affirm the belief that Jesus is, indeed, appreciated as a Rabbi of authority when he is asked to deliver justice for the man in the crowd. However, the request speaks of something deeper and much more insidious than a fair sharing of property.

In recent years we have come to expect that people become independent of their family; that they get on their bike and make a life for themselves in another place; in another country. Something to have pride in.

Not so in Jesus' time when survival often depended on loyalty and sharing of resources. In the tribal, family focussed tradition of the Jewish community land and property were family treasures. Inheritance meant a 'passing on; but also a sharing of responsibiity and opportunity - as more adults became involved in working the land the value increased, not for one but for all. Riches were literally 'ploughed back' into the land for the promise of another season, another generation.

The one 'going it alone' was the exception and spoke of a betrayal or disregard for everything that had gone before.

The man in the crowd wants his desires to be approved, and if he believes who Jesus is, he wants approval from God. In this community, this desire speaks of selfishness and greed; an inability perhaps to accept other family members as co-heirs or elders; a resentment of working for the common good.

In our time we have been encouraged to work on our own desires; to nurture our self-esteem; to follow our dreams. Culture and media assure us that we can 'just do it' because we are 'worth it' and the world really does 'revolve around us'; We are nudged to aspire to ivory towers of individualism crafted with the 'must haves' of designer labels; executive homes and concept cars.
Surely, it's not all bad? A good life must be something to aspire to but there is 'good' and there is 'good'.

The problem is greed. Greed doesn't care about good; it cares about 'me'. It doesn't care where things come from; what the human cost is; what is exploited or denied. Greed does, not only, not love its neighbour - it builds a wall against them if it even recognises that they exist.

No, Jesus does not criticise wealth; he just asks the question- 

How easily does the desire for God get pushed aside by the desire for wealth?
How can you serve when you live in expectation of being served?
How can you appreciate what it is to have nothing when there is nothing you cannot have?
And when the time comes; how do you sell a self-centred life to God ?



Siggi in Downeast Maine said...

The questions at the end give a lot to think about. They remind me of the theological reflections of Education for Ministry from Sewanee Theological Seminary, Sewanee, TN. It is a course for lay persons.

Thanks for your time and energy posting.

Claire Bangasser said...

This gospel is a big question mark for me. I understand the question of the man in the crowd. Indeed one feels a sense of injustice when a family heritage is not fairly distributed.
Still, as you say, Jesus takes the question several steps further. Where do I place Godde in my life? Do my material plans come before Her? And what happens to me in the end...

Gelli Ma said...

Thank you both, I am finding Luke a big question mark in many ways this year. Better to have the question than the answer, I suppose.:) Blessings to you.

Lynda said...

As you point out, it is important to read the scriptures in light of the culture in which they were written. Greed is certainly a concern in our society and I appreciate the inclusion of the human cost of our greed - the desire in our culture to have it all no matter what. Thanks for those thought-provoking questions at the end. Blessings.