Text: Luke 12:13-21
There’s an idea that’s come up a few times in conversations and Bible studies these last few weeks. The idea is this: the more possessions a person has, the less thankful toward God they tend to be; the fewer possessions a person has, the more thankful they tend to be. Now, this isn’t a universal rule, nor is it a sin to have possessions. It just seems that the Old Adam sometimes has a field day with our possessions, and the more of them we have, the more we tend to focus on the gifts rather than the Giver of said gifts.
We learn from the Scriptures that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. God the Father sent forth His only-begotten Son to bear our sins on the cross and restore us to life through His resurrection. God the Father is our father through faith in Christ. Through this faith in Christ, we are made rich toward God. In addition, God, as our loving Father, provides everything we need to support this body and life. Often times, He even provides us more than we need. Through faith in Christ we made rich toward God and caused to receive His blessings with thanksgiving.
Our text this evening begins with a man asking Jesus to settle a dispute between him and his brother. St. Luke wrote, “Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” At this point in the Gospel, a crowd of many thousands was following Jesus. They knew Him to be an authoritative and well-spoken rabbi – a teacher. It was not unusual at the time to consult a rabbi in such a dispute. In the centuries after Jesus, certain rabbis would actually travel to settle arguments like this one; but not Jesus. He who would forsake all earthly possessions by His death for us on the cross, would not arbitrate an argument over inheritance, no matter how legitimate the claim may have been.
Instead, Jesus took the opportunity to pivot and teach what our proper attitude toward earthly possessions should be. He said to the crowd, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” As Jesus says elsewhere, our life consists of more than we have, eat, wear, or buy. Our lives, first, are inherently valuable because we are created by God in His image. We find and are assured of this – our worth – by faith in Christ. But, when we seek meaning in possessions and wealth, we fall into covetousness – because there is never enough. And covetousness is idolatry.
Jesus illustrated this with a parable. He said that there was a certain rich man whose land produced plentifully, so he thought to himself what to do with such an abundance. After conferring with his own conscience, he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. That way, he could eat, drink, and be merry for many years. That same night God demanded his soul from him, and all his merry plans went to nothing. Jesus explained, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
The point of the parable is that all that the man had came as a blessing from God. He could no more have caused his land to bear plentifully than he could’ve caused it to rain. Instead, God blessed him more abundantly than he ever needed. But, rather than consider how to use this abundance to be a blessing to others, the man thought only to bless himself. He thought only of his own happiness and had no sense of thankfulness nor concern for the poor. The man placed the gift in the Giver’s place, and was rich toward himself but not God. When his soul was demanded of him that night, he had to give account to God for pursuing only his own happiness. With this negative example, Jesus teaches us to be rich toward God.
But, what does that mean – to be “rich toward God?” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the chapter before our reading tonight, “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.” To be rich toward God is to receive the richness, the righteousness, of Christ through faith. Though Christ possessed all the riches and glory of the world – as the creator of the world – He set it all aside so that, in Him, we who are poor in sin might be rich in salvation – which we receive by faith. Remember the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man had all the world’s wealth, but was found to truly be poor while Lazarus – who lacked all worldly goods – was found to truly be rich in faith.
We who were born spiritually poor and dead in sin, are made alive together with Christ and by faith in Him are made rich toward God. And, being rich in faith toward God, we recognize from Scripture that all that we have comes from His fatherly hand. We have neither earned the things we have nor have we deserved them, but God gives us all things out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy. Through faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit brings us to recognize this and receive all things with thanksgiving.
Like the rich man in the parable, God does often also bless us with more than we truly need or can use. Being rich toward God through faith in Christ leads us to receive what God gives with thanksgiving and to use it in the same. In the parable, when faced with such an abundance of fruit, the man should have thought how to use it as blessing toward others. We should do the same. When God blesses us with more than we need, we should see that as an opportunity to care for others – which is actually, God caring for them through us. God has often blessed us through the abundance given to others, and He blesses others through the abundance given to us.
Tonight we gather to give thanks to God for our daily bread. More than that, we recognize that, through Christ, God has provided us with more than we ever truly need. He is always more ready to forgive than we to ask, and to give more than we to receive. When blessed with an abundance, the man in the parable thought only of himself – for he was not rich toward God. Through faith in Christ, we who were poor are made rich in salvation. Our sins are forgiven. We learn from our text, that we should receive our blessings with thanksgiving and use them to be blessing to others. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” Amen.