Friday, April 23, 2010

Luke 12:13-34 Commentary

The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
14 Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" 15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."
16 And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
18 "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '
20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
21 "This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God."

Do Not Worry
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life [b]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 "Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Dig Deeper
My dad worked at one place for over thirty years before he finally semi-retired a few years ago. Growing up he got up every day at 4 AM to go to work and often didn’t get home until about twelve hours later. It was a demanding job that he didn’t particularly care for, although he never really complained about it to my sister and I. Yet, in all those years of me growing up and seeing him work at that job, I can probably count on one hand the number of times he missed work. Simply put, my dad is and always has been a model of hard work, consistency, and reliability. But I had friends who weren’t so lucky. I have had friends who had dads who were not at all reliable. Some had left them and their mothers completely, others were constantly getting fired and going from job to job. I even knew a few who didn’t work regularly at all and did more gambling and drinking than working. For these friends, things that I took for granted growing up were a constant source of worry. They worried about having clothes to wear, food to eat, and a place to stay. I never had to worry about those types of things.

That seems all rather straightforward, but what if while growing up I constantly worried about where my next meal was coming from or if we were still going to have a house next month? What if I constantly hoarded food and tried to hustle to get extra clothes or money because I was so worried about having my basic needs met? That would have been ridiculous wouldn’t it? The real question, though, is why would it have been so? When it comes down to it, the reason that it would have been silly for me to worry about those things is because of who my father was. I knew who my father was and I didn’t have to live like those who had a different father. It was as simple as that. This is, in essence, the principle that lies behind this entire challenge from Jesus to trust in God rather than spending one’s life in going after material possessions.

The man who approached Jesus on an inheritance matter, brought no small issue forward to Jesus. This was a major issue. Family descent, inheritance rights, and possession of the land that God had given Israel as their lot as God’s people (see Ps. 135:12, for example), were vital issues for a people for whom land and inheritance were important religiously and economically. As important as all this was, the law simply didn’t cover every single complex case and disputes could be heated and in need of arbitration. But the point here is that Jesus was not about further defining the inheritance laws regarding land. He didn’t come to call people to hold even tighter to their family and land inheritance and identity. This man trusted the security of his possessions and his inheritance rather than trusting in God and his kingdom. This was a wonderful opportunity for Jesus to declare that this was not the mindset of the people of the Messiah-shaped family of God. To follow Jesus means to consider carefully the difference between the self-focused position of trusting in possessions and treasures of this present age, and trusting in God as our provider.

To make his point clear Jesus told a story of rich man who had experienced a very prosperous year. He had brought in so many crops that he didn’t have barns big enough to store his surplus. So what would he do? Would he recognize that God had provided his abundance so that he could share with those in need? No, he decided to act in an implicitly selfish manner. He would build bigger barns so that he could store up his crop and presumably sell it during a time when crops were not so good, and thus make even more money. Rather than thinking of others and honoring God he saw this as an opportunity to get more so that he could live a life of ease, comfort, and enjoyment rather than a life of concern and generosity.

This man was not acting like one of God’s people. He was operating by the values of the family of fallen humanity rather than God’s family, like the world rather than the kingdom. If he would embrace the values of those opposed to the will of God then he would be treated like those opposed to the will of God. He was trusting in possessions rather than in God but when his life was demanded of him, his possessions would do him no good. He would face an eternal reality of putting his hope in temporal things rather than God.

What does all that mean for those who have committed themselves to be followers of Jesus? It all comes down to the simple statement in verse 30, “the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.” That’s the heart of the matter right there. Who is really your father? To what family do you belong? Is it the family of fallen humanity that has no providing father or the family of the Messiah who has the creator of the universe as our caring Father who knows that we have certain needs and who longs to provide them for us if we will but live lives of trust in him.

When God created humans in his image, he created an environment in which we could represent God (the meaning of being in God’s “image”), partnering in his work to care for his creation, and he would, in turn, provide for humankind’s needs. But sin separated us from God and corrupted our ability to be God’s image bearers. Part of the disastrous results of this separation, according to Genesis 3, was that man would have to toil and sweat to provide for himself. No longer would we represent God and have him provide for us. But in Christ, we can be restored back to the original intent of relationships with God and be part of his family, sharing his work (see Matt. 28:18-20, for example), and be confident that God would provide.

But this passage is not just about individuals. It was aimed at Israel as a nation as well. They were going the same way of the man in the parable. They wanted to rely on their possessions and their inheritance as their security. All of Israel, and indeed all people, need to think about which family they are going to be part of and who their father is based on the family that they have chosen. If you were a pagan who thought that your god was not the almighty ruler of the universe, then it would make sense to worry about where your provision was coming from. It would be reasonable, in fact, for a people who had a very limited number of clothes and a precarious source of ongoing food and provision if that were the case.

But Jesus’ people have God as their Father and are restored to the relationship with God as provider. To worry about all the little provisions in life would be to act as though God were not really our father and not really able to provide. If God can provide for his creation, like he does so splendidly, then why would his children worry about the things that he has promised to provide for them. Why, it is downright insulting. If I worried about having a place to live when I was a child, it would have not only been to be out of touch with reality but it would have been a declaration that I didn’t believe my dad to be the man that he was and had always shown himself to be. It was my knowledge and trust of him that allowed me to not worry or think about such things.

Why then, are we so worried about our day-to-day needs? Why do we cling to our jobs and possessions the way the man at the beginning of this passage clung to his inheritance? Why don’t we trust God, based on who he is, to do what he says he will do for his children?

God wants to provide for his children. He wants to bring us into the comfort and security of his kingdom. But what, many of us still wonder, is the kingdom of God and what does it mean to seek it? Does it mean that we should just do our best to go to church for every meeting? No, the kingdom of God, simply put, is the rule and reign of God breaking forth into the present age. It is people living by the reality of the age to come right now in anticipation of the full coming of God’s kingdom in the new heavens and new earth one day. Thus, seeking God’s kingdom means to do God’s will, to share in his reconciliation project for the whole of creation (2 Cor. 5:14-21).

Rather than the greed, clutching, and constant worry of the pagans, God’s people should live by the opposite values. Verse 33 makes the point of what kind of people we need to be. Jesus is not saying that these things must be done in order to follow him. These are principles that God’s people will live by. Rather than clinging to the possessions of this age, we are to be people that live by the values of God’s age to come rather than the greed and rampant anxiety that has captured the nations of the world. When we store up treasures in heaven, meaning we invest our time, energy, heart, and resources in God’s will and his rule and reign in the hearts of humans, then we invest in a treasure that will never be lost. The man in the parable clung to treasures on earth but would find at his death that others would enjoy the possessions that he clung so tightly to. When we invest in God’s kingdom, we invest in a treasure that will never be lost and enjoyed only by others, one that will never be destroyed, and one that will never fail.

There is one important principle that we should note. Jesus said that where your treasure is, there your heart will be. We tend to think the opposite. We tend to operate by the idea that I should invest where my heart is; in the things that I’m emotionally drawn to. But Jesus taught us the opposite. Rather than our investment following our heart, our heart will follow our investment. So invest carefully.

Devotional Thought
What characterizes your life? Do you rely on God’s provision and invest your time, energy, and resources in his kingdom? Or do you constantly struggle with anxiety and the temptation to hoard and worry rather than trust God as your Father? What will it take for you to truly trust God to provide for you?

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