Jesus used stories as a way of teaching – which was common for the wandering Jewish rabbis of his day. His disciples have written down roughly 40 of them: Some are similar themes told in different ways. Some are well known and told over and over again – while others are less well known. Today we read a story that is not told as often:
The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear 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, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (ESV)
So here is a parable that is elegant in its simplicity: it is the kind of parable that needs no explanation: it challenges the idea of building bigger and bigger barns to store your wealth.
But this is not really a story about wealth – it is a story about greed: there is a back story:
Jesus is approached by an unhappy family member who says to Jesus: “Tell my brother to share the inheritance”. We must presume that the brother is standing there too. And they wait for Jesus adjudicate their dispute – and instead Jesus tells a story… .
Jesus tells of a man who becomes wealthy, and he builds bigger barns to store his wealth. Then he discovers that his life is coming to an end, and death will strip him of all his wealth.
This story was originally intended for the two brothers standing in front of Jesus: This story asks a question of each of these brothers
But beyond the two brothers – this parable has haunted our consciences for the past 2000 years. It asks the essential question of human existence:
“How much is enough?”
At this point it is easy to see why this parable is often avoided: It is an uncomfortable story.
I find this story difficult to preach – because this parable contradicts our culture:
We live in a world that makes heroes of wealthy people. We put their faces on the covers of magazines – and we take photographs of their houses, and their yachts, and their vehicles.
Ours is a culture that believes storing up grain in bigger barns is praise-worthy.
And Jesus cuts across this and says – this is not a Godly way of living. In fact Jesus issues a warning: (in vs 21): beware “the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Here’s the thing: Some are blessed with much – because God chose them to manage wealth:
God gives some people financial ability
God gives some people opportunities to gain wealth
God gives some the ability to make wealth
But Wealth is not for collecting – it is given to serve God.
Jesus elaborates on this a few verses later: in vs 48: Of the one to whom much is given, much is required.
In other words – you can fill a barn with wealth – but expect God to call on that wealth for God’s blessings to the community.
Allow me a prophetic word:
It is just plain evil that there are some people who have more wealth than they could ever spend in a lifetime – while others do not have enough to get to the end of the week.
It is wrong that there are nations that spend more on protecting their wealth than they do on assisting people who are starving.
I go to the words of one of the great evangelical teachers of our time: Dr Ron Sider. He influenced my life and thinking – and I am saddened that he died this week. Ron Sider, who grew up in the Mennonite tradition, gave his time and passion to challenging Christians to be uncomfortable with the inherent greed of our culture. “Great economic inequality inevitably produces injustice in a fallen world; therefore Christians must oppose it.”
― Ronald J. Sider, Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement
Jesus says that this lesson begins at home – he speaks to the two brothers and says to them: When you fight over inheritance, you no longer follow the way of God. The fact is that
Challenge us to become generous people: who are willing to share what we have. And to do this with joy:
Let us learn to live more simply – so that others may simply live.
To illustrate this I want to take us to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus: it would seem that they were personal friends with Jesus – and that he often stopped here to rest.
Jesus has been training disciples – sent out 72 of them, and received their reports from the work they have done.
Now he needs a break – and goes to Bethany.
And at this point the story gets interesting: because we see Jesus taking on the culture of the day:
Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus culture was patriarchal: there were clear rules for men and for women.
The men hunted, fished, did business, and discussed the political and religious affairs of the day: In fact it was commonly thought that women were not able to comprehend the complicated things of God – so they were not allowed to lead prayers or read the scriptures in the temple.
The women had children, cleaned the house, cooked the food – and stayed out of the business of the men.
And then Luke tells a story that contradicts this:
Martha is in the kitchen preparing food for their guests – as was expected of a woman.
Mary, on the other hand, went to sit at the feet of Jesus: She took the place normally reserved for a disciple of Jesus. Mary ignored her cultural role – and stepped over the cultural boundaries of the men: she sat in the circle of the men, and discussed religious beliefs with the rabbi.
Now: normally the rabbi would rebuke this woman and tell her to know her place. But we have to assume that the only reason that Mary she did this is because she knew Jesus – and she knew that he welcomed women into his circle.
• Mary knew that Jesus had sat with a woman at Jacob’s well and discussed religious belief with her.
• Mary knew that Jesus had protected a woman caught in adultery
• Mary knew that Jesus had healed a women in a crowd, and had prayed with a little girl who was ill
And so she had confidence to sit at his feet and trust that he would not chase her away.
This is the good news of Jesus – both men and women are welcome to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Want to stress this point – because somehow, 2000 years later, Christians still have not got it!
There are many, many people who follow Jesus who want to separate men and women at the feet of Jesus:
Men assume that their place is in the pulpit while the place of women is pouring the coffee and providing treats after the service.
Some compromise this – and allow women to speak to women’s meetings…but never to the whole church.
And even for us liberated Methodists who have women pastors, perhaps somewhere in our unconscious prejudices we still think that a male preacher is better than a female preacher!
Be clear – Jesus said that Mary was welcome to sit at his feet:
Luke 10:42 Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Let me add one more thought:
Jesus did not say that Martha was wrong for being in the kitchen.
Jesus does not condemn Martha’s call to be hospitable.
When Martha complains that Mary should be helping her – Jesus speaks about calling:
In effect he is saying: “Martha, you live out your calling – but beware of hearing Mary’s calling. You are doing what you are called to do – let Mary do what she has been called to do.”
Think about it – Martha was not complaining that she needed help: she had other help available to her: she had her brother Lazarus who could have helped her: but she specifically wanted Mary! You see Martha had discerned Mary’s tasks, based on the culture of the day.
Allow me to speak bluntly: Every woman is designed by God: and God has placed specific skills in her. And she should be able to hear the call of God on her life to become what Jesus calls her to be.
And she should be able to do this without us being like Martha and talking her out of the dreams that God places in her: Can I wonder aloud?
- What is your reaction when you hear that a woman drives an 18 wheeler truck?
- Or how do you react to a woman being nominated to be the president of our country?
Beware of the temptation to be like Martha: where we allow our history and our culture to limit what a woman can do.
And if you would allow me to digress for a moment and speak about the way men have made decisions about the reproductive rights of women:
We men would protest if a woman governor should pass legislation to sterilize men who father unwanted babies.
We men would be very uncomfortable if a woman legislator would call for men to be castrated for rape or for incest
So let us men pause of speaking about whether a woman should be forced to give birth or not. Instead of trying to take over the voice of God, we can encourage women to hear the call of God in their life choices.
Both Mary and Martha were loved by Jesus…each living into the call of God on their lives. Our task is to encourage each person to discover God’s call and to obey it.
Let me take you back to the text for today: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, 1 Peter 4:10