The Gospel of Luke:
13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus],
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”
15And 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.”
16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.
17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do,
for I have no place to store my crops?’
18Then 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.
19And I will say to my soul,
‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’
20But 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?’
21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
A man is successful. His land grows more than enough crops and he has nowhere to stockpile the extra harvest. So, what does he do? Well he doesn’t seek out the advice or guidance of friends and family. In fact, he doesn’t seem to consult anyone but his own soul as to what to do.
In a 5-verse parable, he refers only to himself and he does it 13 times!
In Jesus’ time, there were many, many people barely scraping by—or even dying of starvation, because they didn’t have the same access to resources and land that provides abundantly. So those hearing the parable would be abundantly familiar with: scarcity and with landowners like the one in the parable. Yet, this man never considers them.
God is the Creator of all goodness and life—the One to credit for the harvest, since Jesus makes clear that it was the land who provided an abundant harvest, not the man’s farming skills. God’s appearance must have come as a big surprise then to the man, since he didn’t even thank God for the harvest—let alone giving some of it back to God.
To be clear, some people have more money, more opportunity, more resources than others. That is the way this world works right now. It doesn’t make them inherently bad or foolish, nor does it make them inherently good or wise. What matters and what makes a difference is what happens next.
This rich man puts his life, his soul into building bigger and better storage areas. He builds and he builds and when he finally has the large storage facilities he wants, God shows up. What does God have to say? “Those things into which you have poured your soul are now requiring your soul.”
This man put all his efforts into storing up more and more for himself, without care or concern for his neighbors—without care or concern for the marginalized and impoverished in his community—without care or concern for God who is the Creator and source of all things—even this man’s abundant crops. His sole care and concern is for himself. He puts so much of himself into these material things that those same material things demand his soul—his life—his being.
He begins the exchange of his life for material gain with a seemingly simple idea for how to keep more of his crop and slowly but surely that selfish concern—that fear of not having enough—that theology of scarcity—consumes him, so that there is nothing to do but inform him that his soul is being demanded of him and it has gotten to the point where there is nothing he can do about it.
Rather than trusting that God will continue to abundantly provide for him, the rich man is like the Israelites in the desert who tried in vain to save manna only to find it spoiled the next day. He tries to hoard what he has, unwilling to share or to extend the generosity he first received from God.
We too live in a culture bound up in the sin of materialism. We always seem to “need” more, bigger, and better things. We can all fall victim to it in different ways, whether it’s always buying the newest book or DVD, the best technology, the biggest car, or the brightest toy.
Materialism is a problem, made all the more real to me of late as I begin to repack my whole material life up to move back to Chicago in two weeks. Materialism is intricately linked with a theology of scarcity. There is never enough, and what we have is never good enough, so we always “need” bigger and better. The two go hand in hand.
This theology of scarcity consumes the man in Jesus’ parable. He has plenty and is equipped with more than enough for what he needs, but when he encounters abundance, as the land produces abundantly, he forgoes trust that God provides abundantly, he forgets anyone but himself, and, motivated by a theology of scarcity, he decides that he must build a bigger, better building to accommodate and keep all his grain and crops for himself—for later, for the future. And once he has finished, the Greek states that they—the possessions, the new building-barn—demand his soul—they consume him.
Like it or not, he is a part of community. We all are a part of community. We are all connected. What affects one, affects us all and what you do and how you do it affects more than just yourself. While this man may have only thought of himself, his actions still affected others. Martin Luther would call this inward focus “incurvatus in se” or, being curved in on oneself—navel-gazing. It is typical of many people, and it is Luther’s interpretation of the original sin that plagues humanity. This inward focus can put up blinders to the rest of Creation, but it doesn’t stop the inwardly focused person from affecting the rest of Creation. It informs how we understand and process everything from money to relationships to care of Creation.
How do you as an individual think about what you have and what you’re going to do with it? With the money, resources, and opportunities that you have, do you, as Martin Luther would say, curve in on yourself—thinking, like this man, only of yourself? Or do you open outward, like a flower in bloom, to focus on your Source—your Creator—and on those around you?
How do we as a congregation think about what we have and what we’re going to do with it? Are we concerned only with what’s within these walls and the goings on inside this building or do we lift our eyes? When we as individuals and as a faith community tithe, or give money to the church, we refute the materialistic claim of our culture that our value is in what we possess and we look upward to God.
We refute the man in today’s parable who trusts and invests in the material things that end up consuming him.
When we make God a priority in our lives, trusting in God’s abundance and God’s economy, we refute the theology of scarcity that rules this world, trusting that in God there is enough and more than enough. When we trust that God will provide for the ministries God calls us to, we are able to be bold and take risks to follow where God is calling us. And in this way we lift our eyes from being curved in on ourselves—concerned only for us—to focusing upward toward God, and outward toward our neighbor.
This week I was privileged to join with low-wage workers and faith leaders from across the Kansas City metro area to stand up to employers who operate out of a theology of scarcity—unwilling to pay a living wage to their employees. I couldn’t help but recall this parable with the rich man thinking only of himself. Together low wage workers, faith leaders, and community members entered into the parable, interrupting the rich man’s self-focused thoughts to show him another way—to tell him that all people need to live and eat. And the grain he is unwilling to share would go to good use with these workers, who continue to work up to 4 jobs just to make ends meet!
We stood up together against the rich man of our culture, the corporations, those who have curved in on themselves. We asked him to consider others beside himself. We stood up and said that there is enough for all people to earn a living wage—that we all deserve human and economic dignity—that we are a part of community.
Last week Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. Each week when we worship together, we pray together, “Give us today our daily bread.” As we join together, we are brought into community. We pray not for my daily bread or my salvation, but for our daily bread—that together we might all have enough, we might all be saved, we might all—together—experience God’s abundance. And God does provide. For you and for me and for all of God’s beloved children, if only we are able to lift our eyes upward and outward to share in God’s goodness.
Emily E. Ewing
Immanuel Lutheran Church