Sermon: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, Jesus isn’t mincing words today, is he? Sometimes the ways he makes his points are subtle, and leave room for variations in understanding and interpretation. This is not one of those times. He asks a very blunt question, and then tells a startling story with a very blunt ending. I’d like to consider them separately, and see then what together they have to say to us here and now.
First, the question: “Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" At first blush, that might seem to us to be a good question. After all, this was not a family member asking, nor one of The Twelve, or any other of Jesus’ known followers; it was just “someone in the crowd.” However, in Jesus’ day, the request of this man, to help divide the family inheritance, was not unreasonable. It was customary in that culture to divide inheritance between brothers; there are regulations in the Law that cover how that was to be done. For this reason, it was also common to ask a rabbi or respected teacher to settle any squabbles over the division. Given this, one might think that Jesus would act as arbitrator. Remember also that, from the viewpoint of Luke's community, Jesus is God's appointed judge; so he would indeed be the perfect person to settle such an issue.
But Jesus refuses to enter into this kind of legal fracas, and he conveys that bluntly with his question. “Who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"
That’s something worth considering. What does it say to us if Jesus-- who is recognized by the man as having the rabbinical clout to arbitrate-- refuses to do so? Seems to me that one thing we might think about is this: if the One who, in our understanding as Christians, has ultimate authority from God to judge, and yet refuses to condemn the greedy brother... perhaps we likewise should think twice about condemning others for the choices they make.
It’s surely easy to do. I can think of people-- and I’m sure you can, too-- who have more than enough of this world’s goods (which usually means more than we do, anyway!) and do not seem to use it in good and godly ways. It’s simple to sit back and feel smug, knowing that we would certainly do better than that! “Who needs that much to live on?” we might ask. “Another car! A larger boat?” “Think how much good that money could do in the church, or at the shelter, or for the food pantry!”
Which brings me to the second part of today’s Gospel. Remember, Jesus asked that question, but he didn’t stop there. He then went on to tell the story of an already rich man, who ended up with far more than he could use or store. His first thought was to build bigger barns, to be able to store it all, and sock it away for a long and comfortable early retirement. But then God upsets these plans. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” All that work, all that planning... all that stuff that seemed so important... and suddenly none of it mattered.
Of course, that’s the point. It never did really matter, did it? It was just that the rich man in the parable couldn’t see that truth, past the piles stacked in front of him.
Have you ever been there, too? I know I have. Quite honestly, I believe it’s true of anyone who lives in this affluent country of ours. Someone working full time at the current US minimum wage would make slightly more than 12,000 a year-- not even close to a living wage in this country. And yet, that income is higher than more than 87% of the world’s population! And most of us, by God’s grace, have a much higher standard of living than that-- enough that we have disposable income, available for use after food and clothing and shelter are guaranteed. We do not always make wise choices about how to use it. We are not as good as we should be, as disciples, in using the riches given us for the good of the world around us, and for the spread of God’s Kingdom.
Now, please do not misunderstand. Of course, we should plan and budget prudently; God’s abundance allows us to be cared for, as well as allowing us to care for others. Implicit in the second part of the Great Commandment (“Love your neighbor as yourself”) is that we are to care for our neighbors and ourselves. However, there is a difference between planning and hoarding, between prudence and greed; and sometimes, perhaps, we do not see that line as clearly as we ought.
So, this is, I think where today’s Gospel leads us: away from judging the faults and inadequacies of others, and directly into the path of looking more closely at our own lives, and our own ability to give, and to share what we are given-- in Jesus’ name.