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The cycle of life, death, and claiming the inheritance.
One from the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus said to him, "Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you? Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?'
"So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."
"But God said to him, "Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'
"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:13-21 NKJV, condensed
Life is not fair, and who knew that better than the resentful man who happened to be born second and not first. Jewish law decreed that the firstborn son was to receive twice the amount of inheritance which the second born son received. So the #2 son asked Jesus to speak out on this matter and tell his brother to share the estate equally. I wouldn't fault him for this request. Would you?
But Jesus saw red flags, and realized this argument needed to be settled not from without but from within. He warned against that old sin, covetousness, which means begrudging what someone else has. It includes anything from popularity to possessions to spouses. We know it well. We see something and use any available recourse or excuse to gain what we want.
It's interesting that Jesus spoke so often about money. As far as we know, he never had a paying job during his entire 3-year ministry. He lived off the land and the generosity of others. Luke 8:1-3 mentions the names of some loyal supporters: Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Herod's steward, and Susanna, plus many other people of means who used their personal resources to provide for Jesus and his followers.
While enjoying the benefits these people made possible, Jesus told this parable. I can't help but wonder if Jesus were looking into the future and describing what life will be like for the man who was upset about the short end of his inheritance.
There was a rich farmer with a good piece of ground. He made an honest living. Life was good. His soil yielded an abundance of crops. In fact, life was so good his barns were not big enough to store everything. What to do about the surplus? There was way more than he could use in the coming year.
He clearly sounded like a self-made man. And a lonely one at that. He reasoned with himself and decided on a plan full of "I, my and mine." He would build bigger barns and squirrel it all away. Instead of working for the next few years, he will live the life many of us dream about. He will eat and drink and be merry! Obviously the rich man had arrived, but hadn't he forgotten something along the way? Like, there is no such thing as a one-man show.
Good weather with the right amount of rain and sunshine--where did that come from? He didn't plow, plant and gather it all by himself, yet there's no mention of his loyal farm workers. Good agriculture practices, the tools, equipment and ideas he used--it seems he has lots of people from many generations to appreciate. The peace and security needed to complete the growing season, that was just taken for granted also. Here was a man with no one to thank, and no one to reward except himself.
There was no thought of sharing his bounty with those who didn't have a banner year. This rich man didn't need a new and bigger barn. What he needed was a new outlook and a heart as bountiful as his good piece of ground. The wandering peasant from Galilee looked at this successful farmer who was the envy of all his neighbors and called him a fool! I think he meant all who covet the life of this rich man are also fools.
To the second born son who felt cheated by life, to those who buy lottery tickets hoping for a ticket to freedom, to all who dream of great riches, Jesus gave this warning. Life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions. We've heard that before; but does anybody believe it!
Just when the rich man was ready to sit back and enjoy life, the angel of death came to take him away. What would happen to all that he owned? You guessed it--his sons will probably squabble over the inheritance.
Separated from his barn full of abundance, who was this unnamed farmer? Everything had been wrapped up in his possessions so when he died, his poverty was revealed. The fool was a pauper in his soul and destitute of spiritual riches. He had worked all his life and had nothing to take with him when he died.
A wise person will stockpile treasures of joy in heaven. And it doesn't matter how rich or how poor we are in this life, we are all able to do that.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What would you do if you won a multi-million dollar lottery?
What was the latest tale you heard about a disputed inheritance? List some adjectives which describe quarrels such as these? Why do people descend like greedy vultures when there is money to be had? What does money symbolize for you?
Relax; eat, drink and be merry. How well do these words sum up the picture we have of rich people? Is this a correct image of what it's like to be affluent?Do you ever find yourself being jealous of people with more money than you? If so, do you consider it a problem? Would Jesus agree with you on this?
What was the answer given to the man who asked Jesus to even the score on the inheritance issue? Beyond the fact that Jesus didn't get involved in trying to settle legal disputes, what was Jesus telling him? How does covetousness relate to the story of the rich man? Where do you see similar attitudes in our present day society? What would change if we heeded the warning not to covet?
Is it possible to be both rich in possessions and rich toward God? Why is the latter more important than the former? Was Jesus right to call the rich farmer a fool? Why or why not? What does it mean to have a heart to match our success in life?
The rich man in the parable was planning to enjoy life as soon as he got all his goods and crops into his storage barn. Had he not died, do you think he would have been happy? Worked so hard and then didn't get to enjoy it. How believable is that? How much money do you need to be happy? How do you plan to enjoy life?Was Jesus being critical of wealth in this parable?
What are some treasures people can store in heaven? How is your stockpile coming along? Why would I call them treasures of joy?
We measure wealth by dollars. But how do we measure being rich toward God? And what bank is it stored in?