In the passage we study today, Jesus continued his teaching that began back in chapter 11. He had just spoken about not fearing man and realizing that God will provide for us, both in daily bread and in having the right words to say when persecuted for the faith.
In the next passage, 12:13-34, Luke recorded Jesus teaching about two aspects of money that are dangerous: coveting more possessions and fear of not having enough. We will look at the stories separately, then see what ties them together.
The Parable of the Rich Fool
When Jesus finished teaching about the Holy Spirit teaching us what to say in persecution, a man asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide his inheritance with him. (13) There is always someone in a Bible study class or worship service who cannot follow along with the topic because of something else on his or her mind.
Jesus refused to be the judge between the brothers. That was not his ministry. He used the man’s statement, though, to segue into his next topic. He told the crowd to guard against all covetousness because one’s life does not consist of an abundance of possessions. (15) It was a teaching that man needed and that we all need.
It was a rebuke to the man who spoke, because it pointed out that the man was missing Jesus’ teaching because he wanted money from his brother.
Covetousness is the inordinate desire for wealth or possessions. We are all tempted by the desire to have things God gave to others and not to us. The Greek word here refers to excess, wanting more than we need. Ecclesiates 5:10 says “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity”.
Jesus was not teaching anything new here. Every good Jew knew the commandment about coveting. God told Israel, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s”. (Exodus 20:17)
Jesus went on to explain the reason why we should not covet. He said our life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. (15)
This counter-cultural, isn’t it? In most countries, the rich are admired and envied. The U.S. once had a television show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It featured extravagant homes of wealthy people, their cars, and the resorts they went to.
The reason the lottery is popular is that you might acquire by luck what you have been unable to acquire through skill or inheritance. The government basically taxes covetousness.
But Jesus said that is not what life is about. So, what is life about? Jesus told a story to illustrate the answer.
In the story, or parable, there was a rich man whose land produced plentiful crops. He had so much, he had to build bigger barns to store his crops and other possessions. His only concern was where to store his goods. It reminded me of storage buildings in the United States. Storage buildings have become a new industry. People who have more stuff than fits in their house rent storage spaces and put the excess in there.
He also had so much, he decided he could retire and play for the rest of his life. He said “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, and be merry”. (19)
Notice that the rich man said this to his soul. The man thought that luxury and pleasure would be good for his soul.
God did not share the man’s opinion about what was good for his soul. He called him a fool. A fool in Biblical times mean a person who had no moral judgment. A man who thought excessive luxury was good for his soul was a fool.
God, in fact, said that the man’s soul would be required of him that very night. He would die and face the next life. His goods would go to someone else. Anyone who thought only of riches on earth and not being rich toward God was a fool. (21) Psalm 49:20 says “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts the perish”.
This brings us back to the commandment. The person who covets places things above his or her relationship to God. That is why Paul called covetousness idolatry. (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5) It is why Jesus said “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and money”. (Matthew 6:24)
Again, Jesus was not teaching something new. The commandments begin and end with this thought. The first commandment is that you cannot have any gods before Yahweh. The last commandment is that you may not covet, which is putting things before God. The last points back to the first.
How, then, do we deal with covetousness? How do we kill the desire to have more and more stuff? How do we kill our resentment over what our friends or neighbors acquire that we do not?
I remember, as a young person, living on a street in a small town. Whenever one household bought a new car, one by one other people on the street bought new cars. Sometimes they even bought the same model as the first person!
We kill covetousness by pursuing God above all else. When we desire God more, we desire things less. Look at Paul, the apostle. He said:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him…” (Philippians 3:7-11)
Having taught about the corruption of covetousness, Jesus went on to teach the other side of the money coin (pun intended). He addressed those who were anxious that they would not have enough to live on. He said do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or wear, because life is more than that. That is a similar statement he made about covetousness, when he said life does not consist of the abundance of possessions. (15)
Jesus did not tell a parable to illustrate this point, but he made a comparison to nature. He asked them to think about the ravens. They did not seek things, but God fed them. He also pointed them to lilies who did not toil, but were arrayed, or clothed, in beauty given by God.
Jesus also made a practical point. He said, being anxious will not add a single hour to your life span. (25) If you cannot do that, what can you accomplish with your anxiety about the rest of things? (26)
The reason we do not need to be anxious about what we have is that God knows what we need. If we will seek God’s kingdom, he will give us the things we need. (31)
In fact, it is God’s “good pleasure” to give us the kingdom. He has wonderful things in store for us in eternity. He also has a part of that to give us today. Therefore, we can trust him. We can even sell what we have and give it to the needy, because we know we can trust him to provide for us.
Jesus’ conclusion is that. Do not spend all your time pursuing treasure on earth. It can be destroyed. Instead, pursue treasure in heaven, your relationship with God. If God is your treasure, that is where your heart will be.
Everything else will then fall into place.