The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 5, 2021
Honesty is the best policy – especially honesty with ourselves! For we can lie to ourselves – and, over time, come to believe our own lies.
One day a man asked Jesus to intervene in a family squabble over money. No doubt he hoped Jesus would settle the dispute with some wise judgment so obviously right that everyone would go along with it. But Jesus refused to even address that issue. He instead insisted on addressing the more fundamental and crucial issue: Should we value riches as highly as we do in the first place?
Jesus wanted His listeners to take an honest look at themselves and see whether they had bought into the lie that life consists of the abundance of one’s possessions. Jesus told this parable, verse 15 tells us, to put them “on…guard against all kinds of greed”.
The main character in the parable was a man already rich but getting richer by the minute. Yet, while climbing the ladder of financial success, the fool failed to realize his ladder was leaning against a wall not worth that much bother. He was missing the point of life, and life itself.
Jesus often warned about the danger of wealth. For riches tempt us to believe the lie that, when we’re not lacking for funds, we’re not wanting for anything. Riches encourage us to think we have it all!
Now, as we reflect on this parable, we must fight the temptation to believe a lie we often tell ourselves: that we are poor and that this parable is meant for others. In truth, the poorest American today is richer than the richest people in Jesus’ day. We enjoy well-illuminated, temperature-controlled comfort year-round, a luxury the wealthy back then never dreamed of. We, unlike them, have indoor plumbing and easy access to cool, clean water. We travel everywhere with greater speed and far less stress and strain. We have better food, better medical care and better health.
If you resist admitting that you are richer than the rich folks originally around Jesus – or than 95% of the people living today – you perhaps will admit you are rich in non-monetary ways that expose you to the same spiritual danger the wealthy face. Some of us are rich in charm and personality; some, in artistic talent and creativity; some, in education and intelligence; some, in physical strength and good looks; some, in professional competence and achievement. Such blessings are great things to have; but having them tempts us to believe that having them is all we need and to suppose we have no need of growing “rich toward God”.
The parable’s rich man was doing so well that it in his mind created a problem. His land was producing so abundantly that he’d run out of space to store everything. It never occurred to him to give his surplus away to feed the hungry. He was so concerned to protect himself against possible risks in the future that it didn’t cross his mind to help the needy with actual risks in the present. He just tore down his old barns and built himself some bigger ones, in order that he might, “relax, eat, drink, be merry”.
The man had been lying to himself for a long time and had come to believe his own lies. He was thinking, “I’ve got it made. I’ve nothing to worry about now.” But he still had death to deal with, and the accounting to God about what he did with the life God had given him. And none of us knows how soon it may be too late to get ready for that! As it happened, that “very night” the man’s life was demanded of him; and those possessions in which he trusted, he no longer possessed.
People often say, “You can’t take it with you.” That’s true. However, you can send it on ahead by giving it to the needy now. The rich fool would have done infinitely better for himself if, instead of storing his surplus in the silos of his selfishness, he’d shared his surplus to fill the shriveled stomachs of the starving.
God called the rich man a fool, but there’s no indication he was a bad man. In fact, there’s a strong indication he was a spiritual man. For, when he was deciding what to do with his surplus, he didn’t consult his financial advisor, the boys at the country club or his bucket list. He spoke with his “soul”, the spiritual core of who he was.
The rich man’s actual problem was that there was something wrong with his soul. At his core he was pure self-centeredness. In his 60-word dialogue with his soul, a fifth of his words were either “I” or “me”; and all his speaking was preoccupied with maximizing benefits for himself. Though he was a spiritual man, he was a small man in his self-absorption. Though he had the world by the tail, his world was bordered on the north, south, east and west by his own little soul.
And that explains why neither God nor other people ever came up in the conversation with his soul. Because he believed the lie he had it all, he thought and prayed as if it were all about him.
Let us refuse to believe the lies we sometimes tell ourselves, and believe what Jesus tells us: That is, that we are fools if we first and foremost store up treasures for ourselves, but wise if we grow rich toward God by sharing what we have. For it is in losing the self-centered life that we gain true and eternal life!