Being Rich Towards God
Being Rich Toward God
What does it mean for us to be rich toward God? In the parable of the rich man (fool) Jesus illustrates for us how not to behave. God is generous and gracious towards us and asks that we act with the same sense of compassion towards others.
Scripture: Luke 12: 13-21
Fighting over the family inheritance. We’ve all seen it. We’ve watched family members squabble over money, real estate, and prized possessions. The death of an individual and the dividing of their assets can cause friction and division amongst family members. One of Canada’s richest families recently had a very public fight over who controls what of the families’ assets. This is the scene that Luke has set for us. A younger sibling is asking Jesus whether the division of family assets was fair and he is hoping that Jesus will take his side and give him his fair share. The man is looking for a legal ruling from a local rabbi, it just happens to be Jesus.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t take sides. In fact, Jesus doesn’t ask any questions about the family situation. What Jesus does do is tell a parable that on its surface isn’t anti-wealth, rather it’s about how we use that wealth. Storing it up while individuals are hungry, suffering, homeless is contrary to God’s will. I often hear in reference to those who are poor or homeless, that the individual made a bad choice, or they had bad luck. That might be true, it may also not be true. Jesus isn’t interested in that. Instead, speaking to the issue of wealth for wealth’s sake Jesus says what good is it? The focus should be to share out of what you have.
The man asking for his share is probably a younger brother who is hoping he might inherit some property after his father’s death. As I mentioned, Jesus refuses to act as a judge in this situation, instead Jesus warns against the greed in the young man’s heart. What’s at play here is a bit of sibling rivalry. We might think a just solution would be an equal division of the property. However, we all know from personal experience that it doesn’t always work this way. In Jesus’ time it was normal for the eldest son to get everything. While we might seek a different outcome today, by asking for a share the younger brother is seeking to advance his own status at the expense of his brothers.
But again, note that Jesus doesn’t comment on this. Instead, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool to teach about greed and the hoarding of wealth.
In the parable, the rich man is very self-focused. There is no evidence that the rich man consults with anyone or has a conversation with others about what to do with his wealth. Chelsey Harmon writes, “Perhaps if the rich man had not been so isolated and alone while he was considering his financial situation someone might have helped him see the error of his ways. Notice how singular and self-focused the man is throughout the parable. Though Jesus says that the land produced the abundant crop, implying that it is the gift of God, the man calls them my crops… my barns… my grain… my goods… my soul. He only speaks to and with himself: he thought to himself… he said, ‘I will do this…’ I will say to my soul… the first person is emphasized throughout the Greek.
“Greed can be insidious, easily becoming our idol. This makes it all the more important that we talk about it with both God and others. Though it is very counter-intuitive to our cultural norms, it is very necessary if we are to practice intentional discipleship and grow in a life rich towards God.” (Chelsey Harmon)
To put it in lighter terms, when we reach the gates of St. Peter, we don’t bring our material wealth with us. We don’t bring our abundance with us. Nothing of what we have in the here and now comes with us. A number of scholars like to quote St. Ambrose and his student, St. Augustine (both fourth century) on this passage. … Ambrose is believed to have penned, “The things that we cannot take away with us are not ours… Compassion alone follows us.” Augustine further commented about the rich fool: “He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.” (Chelsey Harmon)
By hoarding his wealth, the rich fools’ actions have a ripple effect across society. Instead of the grain being shared and sold at market, he is only interested in himself. However, the grain doesn’t do him any good sitting in silos.
What Jesus is teaching here is that the rich man was a fool because he thought his security depending on his wealth, rather than God. Jesus asks, if your life is demanded of you who will your goods belong to?
It’s the last few words of this passage that I find most interesting and I believe have a message for us. “So it is with those who shore up treasure for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Now we could have all sorts of discussions about the state of the world, the mega rich etc. And that’s a valid discussion within this passage. What does it mean that a vast percentage of the world’s wealth is held by a few individuals? Where is the equity there? Given the vast problems and deficiencies we see in society, how could we better allocate wealth? Do our political and economic systems adequately allow for such sweeping change? All fair questions.
I’ll be honest, as much as I dislike the disparity of wealth we see in the world, I’m glad it isn’t up to me to provide the judgement. I’ll leave that with God. I’ll stay in my lane and see what I can do
Instead, I’ll deal with the question that lingers on my mind, which is this: What does it mean to be rich toward God?
It certainly isn’t about storing treasures up or hoarding wealth. Jesus makes that evident through the telling of the parable. What does it mean to be rich toward God?
A life of service towards God, our community, and our families. The message of the parable seems to be that hoarding wealth and possessions are not pleasing to God. Therefore, being rich to God is about sharing out of our abundance. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice car, nice house, or take a nice vacation. The message is to share out of what we have and to avoid the selfish reflection that the rich man has. To be involved in community and its welfare.
Why? Because these are the concerns of God. These are the things God wants to see in creation and in our lives. Not trying to take from what others have, but to share out of what we have. That’s the example we are asked to set. Amen.
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