BaptistWay: Greed vs. need

• The BaptistWay lesson for Dec. 22 focuses on Luke 12:13-34.

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• The BaptistWay lesson for Dec. 22 focuses on Luke 12:13-34.

A warning against greed (Luke 12:13-15)

Everything Jesus says in Luke 12:13-34 has its origins in this initial encounter where a man demands Jesus command his brother to divide the family inheritance.

As a pastor, scenarios like this are all too familiar to me. When people die, relatives fight over what they leave behind. This happens in church and non-church families alike. Perhaps it is a last ditch effort on our part to defeat death by holding on to something of material value in the face of an irreplaceable loss.

A person who recognized Jesus as a teacher naturally expected him to have the ability to render a judgment in ethical matters. Jesus’ refusal to answer is not a denial of his right or ability to answer, or of his concern for social and ethical matters; rather, he turns directly to an area in which others have no right to judge—the question of motivation.

Jesus knew greed motivated the man. So, he issued a warning against greed to all who listened to their exchange—which probably was a crowd—and expounded on it through a parable.

Parable of the rich fool (vv. 16-21)

The story Jesus tells is so ironic, it has to be farce. At first glance, it also seems unfair. However, it’s important to note Jesus did not imply the reason the man died related directly to his wealth. The message of the story is not that God does not want people to prosper, and he will punish them if they do. The point is to demonstrate the futility of the rich fool’s actions.

We are tipped off at a few points along the way about the character of the rich man. First, his decision to completely tear down his barns simply to build bigger ones he does not need demonstrates he lacks propriety. Second, his self-proclaimed intention to “eat, drink and be merry” (v. 19) mirrors the desires of those fighting over the inheritance. Third, God’s designation of him as a “fool” brands him—and those who identify with him—as one who rejects the knowledge and precepts of God as a basis for life.

The story is supposed to sound exaggerated and over the top because Jesus is trying to show his inquirer the ridiculous nature of his argument.

Do not worry (vv. 22-31)

In contrast, Luke portrays Jesus as following up this parable with a teaching nearly identical to Matthew 6:29-33 in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus not only taught what not to do, but clearly instructed all who would listen about the kind of life those who are “rich toward God” (v. 21) should seek to live.

I used to think of this passage in the same way I thought of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. As a child, I loved that song. It seemed upbeat and to have a positive message. However, when you really examine the lyrics, what blatantly is missing is any good reason not to worry. Jesus was not telling his disciples not to worry simply because the phrase sounded good. Part of his reasoning surrounds the same futility personified in the parable of the rich fool. He asks: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (v. 25) It was pointless to worry as a disciple of Jesus. They could not control the things they worried about but could be assured of their value to God (v. 24).

At this point, the person who asked Jesus about dividing the family inheritance wished he had kept his mouth shut. He did not get the quick, easy answer he was looking for. Instead, he got a lesson in what really should matter to people who love God.

Jesus tells him, the disciples and anyone listening nearby, the pagan world runs after material things, but they should concern themselves with seeking God’s kingdom (vv. 30-31).

The only song I know that has embodied this message didn’t come from Bobby McFerrin. It came from the chorus “Seek Ye First.” The reason we can keep from worrying comes from the promise that when God’s kingdom is sought, “All of these things will be added unto you, Allelu, alleluia.”

Heavenly treasure (vv. 32-34)

To ensure we connect this important teaching of Jesus to the previous episode, Luke includes some verses not in Matthew. Most notably, in verse 34, he says, “Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” The Greek word for “treasure” is related to the one for “store up.” Thus, the passage is both introduced and concluded with a saying about “treasuring.” It is not the extent but the place of one’s possessions that is emphasized.

It’s tempting to think we are above the sin of greed, and we have mastered our desire for material things. Perhaps you do not lust over the newest gadgets or drive the fanciest car. But how might you fare if you suddenly discovered you had a rich uncle that passed away and left you and your only sibling his fortune? What would matter more—your share or God’s kingdom?

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