Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13C)
July 31, 2022
Text: Luke 12:13-21
The way of the flesh is covetousness. The way of Jesus Christ is contentment. Contentment in the gifts God has given you is the opposite of covetousness. Or we might say, the opposite of covetousness is gratefulness. Being thankful for all that God has given you. To covet is to wish the gifts God has given your neighbor had been given to you instead. But the way of Christ is to rejoice in the gifts God has given your neighbor, and give thanks for the gifts God has given you. To covet is to think that some thing, or some one, or some other set of circumstances, will fulfill you and make you happy. But that is a space that only God can fill. And so it is as St. Paul says in our Epistle: “covetousness… is idolatry” (Col. 3:5; ESV). There are two Commandments that prohibit coveting… The Ninth: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house,” and the Tenth, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” And so Jesus says to each one of us this morning, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness” (Luke 12:15). Why? Because “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Your life does not consist in the gifts, but in the Giver of the gifts, who loves you, who has redeemed you by giving His own Son into the death of the cross to save you, and who will not fail to provide for your every need of body and soul. So your life flows from Him, and so your life can now flow toward your neighbor.
The rich man’s problem is not that he is rich. It is true that riches can be dangerous. We know, as St. Paul tells us, that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). But poor people can love money, as well. And we all look to money to solve our problems, and we all think if we had just a little bit more, then we’d finally be living the good life. Which is to say, money, wealth, Mammon, has become our idol. Repent. Our prayer should be, “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8-9). That prayer comes from Proverbs, and so it is divine wisdom. And do you get the thrust of the prayer? It is, essentially, give us this day our daily bread, and let us be content with that, with what we need, and what You, O Lord, have provided.
On the surface, it looks like the rich man is content. Times are good. The land has produced plentifully (v. 16) (by the way, note that the rich man is rich, why? Because God has blessed his crops. God has given the growth. God has given gifts, by grace. But the rich man does not recognize this). Now the rich man wants to settle into a life of retirement. He wants to relax, eat, drink, be merry (v. 19). But he has a problem. God has given so many gifts, the poor rich man has nowhere to put it all. So he holds a consultation within himself. What shall I do? I’m too blessed! I know what I’ll do. I’ll build bigger barns. Now, again, the problem is not the bigger barns. Fine. Whatever works. The problem is that the rich man is so curved in on himself; so focused on his own needs, and the desire to eat, drink, and be merry; and convinced that his good fortune comes from him, and depends on him, and is all for him; that he doesn’t see the grain storage God has provided and set before his very eyes. He doesn’t see the bank in which God would have him deposit his wealth. That is, the bellies of the poor. The hungry, the destitute, the neighbor in need. The rich man is so obsessed with creating a heaven on earth for himself by means of his possessions, that he misses the way God has provided for his wealth to follow him into the heaven God has created. And that is by giving it away. Being generous. Being rich to the neighbor, which is what it means to be rich toward God. As it happens, the rich man covets his own things, because he hoards it all up for himself and trusts in it to provide for his happiness. And he does not trust God to provide for him if he shares his blessings in generosity.
Well, the rich man is a fool. He is the kind of fool who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). He is a fool because he doesn’t know the end of his own proverb, the dictum of the Prophet Isaiah, and quoted by St. Paul: “Let us eat and drink,” and it’s not, “and be merry,” but complete the sentence… “for tomorrow we die” (Is. 22:13; 1 Cor. 15:32). That is the best possible philosophy of life we could adopt if Christ were not risen from the dead… if this is all there is. Then we are of all men most to be pitied. But Christ is risen from the dead. And He will raise us, and even now gives us His resurrection life. Our whole life consists in that, and is oriented around that. And so, this is a vain philosophy, this obsession with possessions and the good life now, as though we could build heaven in this fallen world. You know what it is, this philosophy that so captivates the vast majority of people on earth, and all of us to some degree? It’s a few measly years of feigned happiness in exchange for eternal death. And the happiness is feigned. Note how the rich man is surrounded by all his wealth, but he has no one to share it with, no one to help him enjoy it. He is utterly alone. He can only consult with himself. He is utterly selfish, which is what covetousness always is, and it only leads to loneliness and death. “Fool,” God says. “This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20). “Never mind tomorrow, today you die, and I will feed the poor with your stuff in spite of you.”
What a contrast is the way of Jesus Christ. In His earthly ministry, He received His life from His Father alone. He was utterly dependent on His Father. He didn’t look to anyone, or anything else to provide. He knew that all good things come from above. And He didn’t hoard up anything. He gave it all away. In fact, whenever He had a loaf of bread in His hands, what did He do? He gave thanks (gratefulness, recognition that all good things come from God), and He gave it to the neighbors who surrounded Him (which is being rich toward God). In fact, Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and He gives Himself, His very flesh, for you, and for the life of the world (John 6:51). He gives Himself into death for your ungratefulness, for your obsession with possessions and wealth, and for all your covetousness, which is idolatry. He gives Himself into death for your love of money and all the evils rooted in it, for your neglecting your neighbor, and living for yourself. He died for all of that. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). That is the opposite of covetousness. And now, He is risen from the dead. And His giving doesn’t stop. Even as He gave His life for you, now He gives His life to you, to be your own. His life of faith, of utter dependence on the Father. His life of thanksgiving and praise. His life of giving Himself up for the sake of the neighbor. He has freed you from the tyranny of self, and the tyranny of possessions. He has straightened you from being curved in on yourself, and lifted you up so that you look to Him, and to your Father, in faith, for every good gift. This is what it means to be baptized into Christ. Your whole life now flows from God. And He even brings you to a Table where He still takes bread, gives thanks, and distributes it to you, where you eat and drink and… live. Not just tomorrow, but forever.
So now it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, or somewhere in between. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. It consists of Christ. Christ is your life. Christ is your treasure. Everything else is icing on the cake, and it is meant to be shared. God gives it to you, to give to others. God blesses you, to be a blessing to others. Receive it with joy. Give thanks to the God who gives it. Enjoy it. And then be generous with it, trusting that God will continue to pour out His gifts on you. Don’t be a fool, and repent of all foolishness. Christ is your life and salvation. And look… Here He is once again to take bread, give thanks, and give it to you… His true body, sacrificed for you on the cross, now risen and living… And the cup of blessing that we bless… His true blood poured out for you. And we know from the Old Testament that the life is in the blood (Lev. 17:11). So what is being poured into you? Life. Resurrection life. His life is in you. Your life consists in Him. Not in the abundance of possessions. Christ. Christ is your life. And that is the good life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.