Our Gospel text this morning is more about life and death, faith in God and love for neighbor than we might think at first. If we think it is really about money, that is because our greed has convinced us that life is all about our possessions as we forget what our Lord says, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness,” (Luke 12:15). Jesus tells us – because covetousness is dangerous. To covet is to have a sinful desire for any thing – or any one – that belongs to our neighbor.
How dangerous is coveting? So dangerous that it gets in the way of family love, dividing brother against brother. May God spare you the ugly conversations after funerals over who gets what and how fair is that. I have listened with great sadness to such bitterness, all the more sad since since the only reason anyone is getting anything is that the dead person could not take it with them – and then the survivors fight over stuff that death will take away from them.
So one man tries to enlist Jesus in his family war. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). Christ’s response seems a little strange at first. “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” It sounds strange because we have our minds not on earth, but on Heaven, where God the Father has made His Son Lord and Judge of all. Certainly as the Son of God, with all authority and wisdom, Jesus could have divided the stuff fairly.
But the Father sent Jesus here not to be a judge of earthly fairness, but to be a minister of mercy, to live and work and die for us so He could give us what is not fair, to give what we do not deserve – forgiveness for our greed, salvation from sin, the gift of Heaven, adoption into His family, by grace, for free. In the end if you demand the Lord to be fair with you, to give you the judgment you deserve, you will get it. In Hell. The man wanted half an inheritance on earth, but God wants to the man to receive Christ’s full inheritance of Heaven at His death. But that will only happen if this young man sees that his greed was leading to destruction.
“Be on your guard against covetousness,” Jesus tells the crowd – because you see in this man how it has destroyed this man’s love for his brother, how he loves what he might get out of his brother instead. “Be on your guard against covetousness,” because it can destroy your love for God, so that you love only what you might get out of God instead. Christ’s parable of the rich fool shows how dangerous this is – if Death can separate you from your treasure, then you have foolishly treasured the wrong thing. Repent. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth which fail. For the things you store up for yourselves – whose will they be, and what good will they do you when your body goes to the grave?
Jesus has a different way for you, the way He lived, the way of laying up treasures in heaven which do not fail or pass away. This is being rich toward God – to cherish and treasure life with Him above all else, to seek Christ’s righteousness and pray that the kingdom of God come among us. This is what Christ has done for you – giving to you the abundance of His innocence and holiness and life, so that you would share in His treasure – so that you would be His treasure in Heaven. That should make us see Baptism in a whole new way this morning. In this water, Christ was rich toward God as He made little [Hannah/Cason] to be His treasure in Heaven.
Being rich toward God is to be abounding in faith and hope and trust in the Heavenly Father as the One who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. This faith, this richness toward God, is expressed as you let go of your surplus, as you share your abundance with those in need around you, freely giving to others as the Lord first freely gave to you. The parable’s rich fool had plenty of barns to store some grain for the future. And he had plenty of places to put the excess grain – in the mouths of the hungry people of his day. He could have let go of it if he trusted all the more that the God who had provided this year would provide next year. After all, He is the God who answers your prayers before you even say a word.
The Almighty God does precisely this in the parable of the rich fool. Perhaps you missed it when you first heard it – I know it took me a long time to see this. So listen carefully to the words Jesus uses. Notice He does not say, “A rich man worked hard at his farm and produced a bumper crop.” No, Jesus says, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully” (Luke 12:16). The man did not produce it. The Creator God produced it from His own creation. Certainly God used the man’s work on the farm, but without God’s giving, the rich man would have nothing – even as many of you know you can do all the planting and working of the ground you want and still not have success. You and I can faithfully work in just about any area of life, yet if God stops working and giving and blessing, we will have nothing, in body or soul. The fruits of the earth, the possessions we own, our family and friends – all are a pure gift from Him. So you see, Jesus here is not saying it is a sin to have money and possessions and retirement accounts. In fact, very rich men like Abraham and King David end up in heaven. But they also remembered that it was the Lord who gave them all these things, and that their greatest treasure was not on earth, but in Heaven. What is sinful is to have the wrong attitude about riches, to be greedy and stingy, and ultimately forget God as we treat money as the answer to every problem. Last Sunday’s Gospel reading taught us again to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” so that we would realize just how much good that God gives us – whether we ask for it or not – and then so that we would be thankful to Him for it.
You and I have literally let our greed and other sins distract us from feasting on God’s Word. But here God is again, ready to satisfy your hunger, to fill your emptiness. Here He gives you more than daily bread for day to day life. Here He gives you the Living Bread from Heaven for your life to come. God’s Son was planted on this earth as the Seed of the Woman, only to be cut down in the prime of His life. The religious leaders saw Christ’s popularity and power amongst the people, and they coveted it for themselves. They “harvested” Christ so to speak to feed their hunger for pride.
But you know, Jesus knew what they were doing – and He allowed Himself to be cut down and nailed up to the Cross. Because that was the only way He could pay for their coveting and our greed. Not with the treasures of silver or gold, but with His precious blood and innocent suffering and death. He was baked as bread in the fires of God’s wrath against our sin. All so that there would be a limitless amount of forgiveness for your sins and mine, an abundant harvest of souls for eternity. Because Christ died for you, you now possess the riches of Heaven, eternal wealth that will not be taken away from you at death. In Christ, you have the ultimate retirement plan – eternal life with God and a seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom. And all of it comes to you by grace, a gift of God to you.
Many of you carry in your hearts the pain of being divided from loved ones. Only it is not greed that divides you like it did the two brothers as the start of today’s text. It is faith that divides you, as they refuse to believe in Christ – and you know if things do not change, you are afraid of being eternally divided; you in Paradise, they in Hell. And so you pray – and your prayer ends up sounding a little similar to the request of the man, who asked, “Teacher, tell my brother too divide the inheritance with me.” We ask, “Christ tell my brother, my children, my neighbors of Your life, You love, Your forgiveness, so that they may share Your inheritance, Your treasure with me.”
Our greatest treasure is not a full barn or bank account, but Christ Himself, who is is our inheritance, our goal, our life. For His poverty has made us truly rich – rich in His mercy and grace, as God provides all that you need, both for this world and the one to come. Amen.