“Guard yourselves from all wealth.”
This whole middle section of Luke’s gospel is bookended by this question, “What must I do to inherit lasting life?” A lawyer asks Jesus this question in chapter 10 and then in chapter 18 a rich ruler asks him the exact same question again. Everything in between is in essence Jesus’ elaborate answer to this repeated question, “What must I do to inherit lasting life?”
Interestingly in the midst of Jesus teaching over and over about inheriting lasting life he is faced with two brothers who are concerned about their inheritance. One of them approached Jesus saying, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!” An argument over the family inheritance is driving these two brothers apart. They are fighting and clawing over who will get their dad’s wealth. They care about getting the money, wealth, and land of their dad’s inheritance more than they care about each other.
Jesus, however, refuses to play their game and apparently couldn’t care less about the inheritance these brothers are fighting over. “Man, who put me as judge or divider over you?” Then Jesus went on to say something astonishing that is still baffling to our ears today, “Guard yourselves from all wealth.” Jesus wants us to inherit the true, lasting life he has been teaching about and he sees an excess of money and possessions as harmful to this, saying, “With an excess of possessions, one’s life is nothing!”
To illustrate his point Jesus told a parable about a wealthy man. The land of this already wealthy man produced an extraordinary harvest that left him even more wealthy than he had been before. This man considered his options and decided to tear down his barns in order to build bigger ones that would hold this immense wealth for himself and his family. He said to himself, “Life, you have many goods laid up for many years! Rest! Eat! Drink! Celebrate!” The wealthy man saw this bounty as an opportunity for him to no longer work, an opportunity for him to truly live by living the “good life” of luxury.
The world’s wisdom says this man was very wise. He had an opportunity to take care of himself, to secure his retirement and future. He had a chance to make sure his children would be taken care of now and when he was gone. The world would praise him for grabbing this wealth when he had the opportunity. This man believed that grabbing this abundance for himself was the ticket to truly living and to securing the certainty of his life.
But god saw it vastly different. God saw the wealth he had stored up for himself and his loved ones and saw only death. The man was not living, his wealth had choked true life out of him and he was already dead. God said to him, “Fool! This night your life is being demanded back from you! ” What our world thinks is the “wise” course of action is completely foolish in the eyes of god.
God went on to say to this man who had stored up wealth, “What will be of the things you prepared?” Who will get the wealth this man stored up? His children will, right? Isn’t this a good thing, isn’t this the whole point of his accumulation? This great wealth will be left to his children and they will have every future need met, they will be able to live and have true life because of this provision and abundance, right?
But remember how this whole story started. It started with two brothers divided because of their dad’s wealth and inheritance. Two brothers fighting over who would get what from the wealth their dad had stored up. The wealth that this man would leave his children, would be nothing but a curse to his children. A curse that would divide them from one another and, most importantly, divide them from god. Through their inheritance these children would only be encouraged to follow in their dad’s footsteps and the cycle of greed and hoarding would continue.
Jesus then declared to all, “The one who stores things up for his own, is not wealthy with respect to god.” The storing up of wealth is always against god’s will because it goes against the command to love one’s neighbor as much as oneself. Earlier, when discussing how to inherit lasting life, Jesus had asked what god’s will was and a lawyer had answered, “‘You will love the lord your god with your whole heart, with your whole life, with your whole strength, and with all of your decisions, and your fellow creature as much as yourself.’” Jesus responded to the lawyer, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” For Jesus the true inheritance and wealth of life comes through loving one’s neighbors, and even enemies, as much as oneself.
The storing up of wealth goes against the command to love one’s fellow creatures as much as oneself because it is about a self-centered and family-centered attempt to secure the future. In the process of trying to secure the future by storing up wealth a person breaks god’s will for this present moment—his will that we each love our fellow creatures, today, as much as we love ourselves. How can you and I love our neighbors as much as ourselves if we have storehouses for some unknown future that may never come while our neighbors are hurting and are in need this very day?
The man in the parable was a “fool” in god’s eyes because he was hoarding for himself and his family when there were neighbors in his world who were going hungry that very day. The man took more than his daily bread for himself and his family and by doing so cut himself off from true life, true wealth, and the inheritance of god.
Jesus knows that the children of the true father, god himself, will receive the inheritance that truly matters. As the psalmist said, “The earth is the lord’s and everything in it.” There is no use fighting to accumulate wealth when everything in the creation, including life that lasts, is yours through the heavenly father. Through trying to hoard wealth for ourselves we are actually making ourselves poor by cutting ourselves off from the full inheritance of god the father—when you take some for your own, then the “everything” of the father is no longer yours. Your father in heaven wants you to share in his full inheritance, he wants you to let go of gathering money and possessions and realize that everything in the whole creation is already yours through Jesus.
We as a community here in this place are being challenged this day by Jesus to rethink the way we see wealth and inheritance. We are being challenged to see the path of true life that Jesus has opened up for us. We are being challenged to trust that our father in heaven will take care of our futures and he will never leave us, even when we inevitably suffer and die. We are being challenged to trust those here, in this community of Jesus, to take care of us when any need may arise. We are being challenged to let go of our storehouses so that god’s creatures, especially those in this room, who are in need this day may receive their daily bread from our excess.
What seems wise in the world’s eyes is foolish in god’s eyes—and what seems foolish in the world’s eyes is wise in god’s eyes. True wisdom for Jesus involves letting go of all hoarding for ourselves and our futures because we know that everything in the whole creation belongs to our father in heaven and as his children we share in that full inheritance right now and also when our bodies are raised from the dead on the last day. We have no need to store up wealth of any kind for ourselves, because through our father, everything is already ours. Therefore Jesus tells us, “Guard yourselves from all wealth.” Amen.