Homily for 8.4.13
18th Sunday in
The Gospel Lectionary for today again takes us to the heart of Jesus’ Kingdom project. Namely, we discover how a proper theology leads to a sanctified sociology. That is to say, to truly peer into the mystery that is GOD (and only the Christ can take us there), means we will be led to relate to others in a godly way. Or, said still differently, to love GOD is to love others.
St. Luke has been pounding away at this truth all along. We found it as the point of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we found it in the reality of Jesus’ jettisoning the social restrictions in regard to women in the confrontation between Mary and Martha, and we found it as the essence of Jesus’ prayer life, when he petitions the Father, “thy Kingdom come.”
Today's pericope takes us even deeper into this reality, confronting us with the Kingdom dweller's relationship with their possessions. Of course, the origin of the text has little to do Western, 21st century conspicuous consumption, as deeply challenging as this is. No, today’s text again brings before us the challenge concerning Jewish identity and who will be included in GOD's coming Kingdom. This parable is about the identity of the chosen people, the inheritance of the land which was sacred and the assumed, inevitable inclusion in the Kingdom of those who were wealthy.
The text begins with the occasion of the parable:
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed,for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Kenneth Bailey, in his book, Jesus Through Eastern Eyes, writes that we can assume the unsaid back-story. The petitioner is a younger brother whose father has died and whose older brother has inherited the estate with no intention of dividing it with this the younger brother. The younger brother, therefore, wants Jesus to "press his older brother into making the division." (pg.300)
Dr. Bailey goes on to write:
"First-century rabbis were experts in the law of Moses and spent their time giving legal rulings... the petitioner hoped Rabbi Jesus would take the case."
But, Jesus wants no part of what he understands to be a request not for justice -- please hear my case and see what you think, but rather, a call to decide the case the way I tell you -- “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
New Testament Scholar, N.T. Wright, whose work I am closely following closely in this homily, reminds us that two ideas rule the plot of the text:
- the assumption in Jesus' day that the wealthy will inevitably be part of the Kingdom because wealth was a sign of GOD's blessing...
- and that the 1st century Hebrew nation was in danger of becoming like the Rich Fool by blindly hoarding land and possessions while the moment of acute danger rushes toward them...
The Parable of the Rich Fool asks us to decide if wealth is a sign of GOD's preference. Would the ownership of lands and barns and bigger barns denote the blessing of the Covenant? There were scriptures where a case could be made for this point of view, that the blessing of wealth announced inclusion in the final coming of GOD's Kingdom resurrection and vindication.
But, what does Jesus teach? In Luke 18, at the conclusion of the confrontation with a different rich man, we read Jesus final words’ to this would be follower:
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" 27 He replied, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God." 28 Then Peter said, "Look, we have left our homes and followed you." 29 And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life."
Jesus’ listeners are amazed, "Then who can be saved?" for their assumption is that of their community. That is, if the rich aren't going to be there then what hope do the rest of us have?
The primary point here is that their possessions, those possessions that offered national identity as the chosen people -- the land, the temple, the family and Torah -- must never be worshipped and converted into an idol.
UNDERSTANDING THE APPROACHING STORM
Now, we are ready to hear the parable:
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him,‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Far from being a reminder of the inevitability of death and the importance of the after-life, which may come along in the parable's wake, the primary reading of the the story is that of the gathering storm facing the nation. Soon, their overt Hebrew nationalism would swell to the point of rebellion, and in the moment of rebellion the Romans, who are professional killers of rebels, will slaughter them wholesale.
So here’s the question: What good will the land, the temple, the family and Torah be then?
There is only one hope, therefore. There is only one way of peace. But time is running out, and indeed it ran out. The finality of the moment is made explicitly clear in Jesus’ lament in the triumphal entry:
33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, "Why are you untying the colt?" 34 They said, "The Lord needs it." 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40 He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out." 41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God." (Luke 19:33-44)
UNDERSTANDING THE CALL TO FOLLOW
What is Jesus saying to his people -- both then and now? What, does it mean for Jesus' followers to follow the Jesus-way, the Kingdom-way and the narrow-way? What does it mean to practice the new humanity, the new community and the new way of peace? It means, quite literally, everything in ones life is turned around and turned upside down. We hear this powerfully proclaimed in the repentance preached by John the Baptizer, and subsequently endorsed time and again by Jesus!
Jesus calls upon small groups of people from surrounding villages to a daily repentance and praxis of Kingdom Values, which would be expressed in their new ideals, moral beliefs, ethics, goals, principles, standards and allegiances. So that, scattered about Palestine would be small groups of his people, dotted here and there in divergent villages. These small groups and individuals devoted to Jesus, alive for the Kingdom, fortifying other disciples and becoming associated as a new community would offer to each other and to the watching world sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness. For this was the motion and the message of the King.
What do you think would happen if a small group in a small village began living-out and practicing the new way, the Kingdom way? What would be the impact -- then and now -- if the lessons of the Kingdom -- being a neighbor in the Good Samaritan sense, seeing beyond gender in the Mary and Martha sense, praying for the Kingdom to come in the sense of the LORD’s Prayer, and not allowing the security of possession to become an idol in the Rich Fool’s sense were daily presented? What do you think would happen in these village?
These practices that Jesus calls on the people to live-out and perform would have powerful, practical implications in these villagers daily lives. And they would disrupt the daily lived-out routine-reality of those villages.
This is how the Kingdom grew -- small seeds into a huge tree and a little yeast that leavens the entire loaf. Small starts. Victories and defeats. But, be sure of this: The Kingdom grew, and only grows even today, as the people of the Kingdom take on the values of the King and present them to the watching-world as an alternative reality to what they now have -
"Everything is meaningless," says the Teacher, "utterly meaningless!" (Eccl. 1:2)
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”