PassageIn the last passage, there was a crowd around Jesus, but he spoke first to his disciples. In this passage, however, someone from the crowd asks him a question—or rather, makes a demand: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (verse 13 (ESV)). It’s difficult to read Jesus’ response without putting a modern inflection on his words—especially the first word: “But he said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’” Then, as usual, he gets to the heart of the matter: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (verse 15 (ESV)). Rather than even get into the argument this man is having with his brother about an inheritance, Jesus focuses on the fact that the man is breaking one of the ten commandments in worrying so much about this: he’s coveting.
To illustrate the point, Jesus then tells a parable, in which a rich man has so many crops that he doesn’t know what to do with them, so he tears down his barns to build even bigger barns, just so that he can store it all, and then relaxes, sure in the knowledge that he’s got enough surplus to live off for years to come. But then God tells the man that he’s going to die that night, and rhetoricaly asks who is going to get all of that stuff. Jesus finishes the parable by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (verse 21 (ESV)).
And if we take Jesus’ advice and don’t covet, but just enjoy what God has given us, what will be the result? Jesus’ next point is that his listeners shouldn’t be anxious about what they’ll eat, or what they’ll wear. Life, he says, is more than these earthly things. Jesus illustrates the point a few ways:
- Ravens don’t farm, or prepare their own food, yet God feeds them, and Jesus’ listeners (and we) are much more valuable than birds.
- Even if you were to get anxious, that anxiousness couldn’t add a single hour to your life (it will probably do the opposite!), so if you can’t even accomplish such a small thing as that, what are you being anxious for?
- Lilies don’t manufacture clothes for themselves, yet even King Solomon—the richest of all of Israel’s kings at the height of the nation’s glory—was ever dressed as nicely as they are. So Jesus’ listeners (and we) shouldn’t worry about what we wear, either.
“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
(verses 29–34 (ESV))
ThoughtsThere’s an irony when Jesus, who is Lord of all, tells the man that he’s not “judge or arbitrator” over him, but the point he’s making is that he didn’t come to this earth to judge petty disputes between people—he came to save their souls. And, judging by where Jesus takes the conversation next, it seems that this particular man is covetous, which is putting his soul in danger.
In the parable of the rich man who stores up all of his possessions, what was the man’s actual sin? After all, there’s a sense in which what he was doing is just good sense: Of course you’d need somewhere to store all of your stuff. But I have a couple of thoughts on that:
- There’s a question as to whether all of that excess should really be going into the man’s own barns, or whether he should have been giving it away. Especially given the context of this story, where Jesus is warning against thinking that your life consists if the abundance of your possessions; if you already have so much, do you really need even more?
- There’s a definite problem with this man placing his trust in all of that wealth. Regardless as to whether the fictional man were to die that night or even if he were to live for years and years, the result would still be the same: without God in this life, the man would enjoy his wealth, and then die and live eternally without God in the next life as well.