A fisherman once sat in the midday sun, gazing out to sea. He was watching his little fishing boat riding at anchor and he was thinking to himself how good life is and how much he was enjoying sitting in the sun with no worries watching the waves and giving thanks for God’s Creation.
Soon, his blissful meditation was interrupted by a well dressed businessman. The businessman walked briskly up to the fisherman and said sharply, ‘What are you doing lazing around at midday? Why aren’t you out fishing?’
Somewhat taken aback, the fisherman replied politely, ‘I’ve done my fishing for the day. I’ve taken my fish to market and now I’m relaxing in the sun.’
‘But why don’t you put out to sea again and catch more fish?’
‘Why would I want to do that?”
‘Well, then you would make twice as much money.’
‘Why would I want to do that?’
‘Well, then you could buy a bigger, better boat, and catch even more fish. You could even employ other people to do the fishing. My word, you could own a whole fleet of fishing boats.’
‘Why would I want to do that.’
‘Well, if you owned your own fleet of boats, and employed other people to do the fishing, you would have as much money as you could ever dream of and you would be a rich man like me.’
‘What would I do then?’
‘Then you could really enjoy life.’
The fisherman thought about this for a moment, smiled and said, ‘What do you think I am doing right now?’
(Wisdom Stories, by Margaret Silf, pgs. 78-79, adapted)
Story is a powerful medium. Even a simple story like the one I just told you can reveal something about differing values and spark ideas and discussion. Storytelling is the oldest form of communication in which people attempt to articulate their experiences in order to convey their understanding of their lives and the world around them.
Jesus was a consummate storyteller. He told parables, using language and imagery that was familiar to his audience, to illustrate God’s presence and activity in the world. His stories also inspired further thought and provoked his listeners to consider what meaning the story might reveal for their own lives.
The Gospel lesson for today is commonly known as “The Parable of the Rich Fool”. At first glance this story is about the foolishness of greed in the storing up of treasures on earth. The story also reminds us that human beings are mortal and that the future is indefinite and uncertain. This is a parable that is an example story. It is also a parable, that when combined with other stories from Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, reveals Jesus’ ethic of communal sharing and community life focussed on God’s way of compassion and justice.
Let’s begin with today’s parable which is prefaced with a warning to be on guard “against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) The focus of the parable is a rich man. We know from the story that if the man is rich he owns a great deal of land. He is not a subsistence farmer. He has barns to store his crops and he would have tenant farmers to do the back breaking labour required to tend the crops and tear down existing barns and build new larger barns.
A few years ago, I heard a lecture given by a biblical scholar of some note named, Richard Rohrbaugh. Rohrbaugh, speaking about the Gospel of Luke said that Luke “always views riches or money negatively.” When the Gospel of Luke uses the word “rich” it indicates someone who is complicit in an unjust system that is economically oppressive. There were very few rich people in Jesus’ time and those who were wealthy maintained their position at the expense of others.
Did you notice that the rich man in Luke’s story is completely egocentric? Eleven times in the story, the rich man uses the first-person, “I” and “my” and never “our” or “their”: “He says, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to story my crops? …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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years…”
Jesus, in his life and ministry, consistently encouraged people to give thanks to God for the gifts and resources of their lives and to share these blessings with others. The postscript to the Parable of the Rich Fool is a warning to those who store up treasures for themselves and are not rich toward God. (Luke 12:21)
Immediately following today’s parable, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus talks with his disciples about not worrying but instead putting their energies into actualizing the Commonwealth of God. He says, “Do not be afraid…for it is God’s pleasure to give you the commonwealth. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.”
In the “Parable of the Dishonest Manager” we hear Jesus say that, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” (or in some translations – God and mammon) (Luke 16:1-13) and then there is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) that graphically illustrates the vast chasm between the rich and poor in Jesus’ day.
We know that Jesus encouraged a communal lifestyle amongst his followers that valued and embodied caring for everyone’s basic needs.
Jesus did not discriminate between rich and poor – anyone could become part of the community of faith. What was required was to share your available resources, be it time, talent or money, for the common good.
“Acts of the Apostles” tells us that after Jesus’ crucifixion his followers continued to strive to embody this kind of community living. (Acts 2:43-47; Acts 4:32-37)
An article that I read this week put it this way:
“The first believers ‘had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as [they] had need. No one claimed that any of [their] possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone in need. Financial generosity was combined with social generosity. Personal piety and social justice weren’t separated. The early believers subverted normal social hierarchies of wealth, ethnicity, religion, and gender in favour of a radical egalitarianism before God and with each other.” (“Watch Out for Greed! The Parable of the Rich Fool”, essay posted July 29, 2013, The Journey with Jesus)
As North Americans, we live in a time that has been shaped by an aggressive consumerism that instils anxiety and a sense of scarcity within our population. As Professor David Lose explains,
“I know I don’t have enough stuff because I live in a world that regularly tells me that I don’t have enough… Television commercials, posters, magazines, the internet and all the rest tell me that I’m insufficient, incomplete, and not quite right on my own, but they also promise me that if I only buy this product or that – everything from toothpaste, a new laptop, wrinkle cream, or a better car – then I’ll be complete. Our culture unequivocally equates consumption with satisfaction, possessions with happiness, and material wealth with the good life. Ours is a ‘stuff love’ world. Trappings really do trap us.” (Trapped by Trappings, internet article by David Lose, Luke 12:13-21)
This brings us back to our Gospel lesson for today where Jesus says, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus encourages his followers then, and now, not to store up treasures for themselves but rather be generous with all the gifts of our lives and to speak and act in the interest of those with the least in our world.
The resources we share as a community of faith are rich and varied. We have a richness of the heart and soul that we share whenever we are gathered and especially when we are dispersed in the wider community. There are many examples that I have spoken about in the past but in the interest of time I’ll focus on one aspect of the ministry that we share in our world.
I have often been awestruck by the ways in which our Prayer Shawl ministry reaches out and touches the lives of so many people. The shawls appear, like manna from heaven, on a Sunday morning to be blessed by our community of faith and then they rest in prayerful anticipation to be called forth to bless others. These shawls are created with loving prayers – an embodiment of our prayers and caring for others. They have been a source of comfort to those whose concerns have been known to us because of a close connection with members of our church family. They have also been gifted to strangers whose needs have become known to us in some way. They have been hand delivered and mailed – always with a card and a blessing. Often the Prayer Shawls go out as quickly as they come in. We don’t often have a large reserve of shawls on hand. I have never felt anxious about this. In my experience there has always been a shawl available for someone who needs it. It is one of the few things I consistently feel certain about. When it comes to generous giving from the heart there is always enough.
Last Sunday we blessed a Prayer Shawl during our worship service. On Wednesday I received an email from our United Church BC Conference office with the information that The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is holding its BC National Event in Vancouver this September. The email stated that, “During this gathering many survivors of Indian Residential Schools will be sharing their truth about their experience at the schools.” Enclosed was also a request for Prayer Shawls to be given “to survivors as a sign of our respect and compassion and desire for healing and reconciliation.” Five United Churches in the Lower Mainland were listed as drop off sites on or before September 8th. It happens that I will be visiting my mother in the Lower Mainland this coming week and enclosed in my small suitcase will be a Prayer Shawl from Kimberley United Church that carries your love and blessings for someone we don’t know personally but that God knows intimately.
In this coming week may we all be surprised and enlivened by the wondrous and simple ways in which the transforming power of God’s love changes and frees us to love and live our faith more fully. And, may we be ready to show others how our community of faith is accepting the challenge of Christ’s call to reveal God’s love for the world in our words and actions.
Thanks be to Christ for this sacred calling.
Praise be to God for the courage to respond
with faith, hope and love.