Lexegete™ | Year C | St. Luke
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 1, 2010 (Lectionary 18)
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 49:1-12 (3)
Psalm 107:1-9, 43 (8)
Prayer of the Day
Benevolent God, you are the source, the guide, and the goal of our lives. Teach us to love what is worth loving, to reject what is offensive to you, and to treasure what is precious in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Alleluia. Blessed are the | poor in spirit,
for theirs is the king- | dom of heaven. Alleluia. (Matt 5:3)
1. CONTEXT: Luke 12:13-21
Interestingly, Charles Talbert (Reading Luke, Crossroad 1982) saw this reading as part of a larger Christian homily (Luke 12.1- 53) directed to the disciples dealing with persecutions, possessions, and preparation for the coming of Christ at the age's end. But like the Third Gospel in other respects, Jesus is not bashing the rich here. Wealth is not condemned. It is evaluated in an entirely different way than the normal standards of life on earth. Wealth, possessions in general are of much greater interest to Luke than the other gospel writers.
When the question "What shall we do?" appears early in the Third
Gospel (3.10ff.) on the lips of John The Baptist's hearers, the answer
is: "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise...." In his extensive and helpful
analysis, Luke Johnson (Sharing Possessions, Fortress Press, 1981) finds that the only "mandate" when it comes to possessions in the gospel is that the Christian (or that the Christian Church) is to share. Human "being" is never summed up by the "having," just as life is not a matter of possessions.
Later in this gospel, chapter 16, Luke will include sayings of
Jesus, "You cannot serve God and mammon" (16.13), calling the disciples "lovers of money" (16.14), and his telling of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in another contrast of the rich and the poor in an almost morality play form (16.19-31). There are numerous instances in this gospel where Jesus deals with stewardship in some form, setting a wide net as the context for the present reading.
Johnson is particularly instructive when it comes to the accumulation of wealth in the Lucan scriptures: "material wealth is not by itself a wicked thing, or necessarily either the result or sign of an idolatrous pattern of living." Luke provides depth on matters of possessions in a number of instances, serving as a reminder of the importance they play in life. It is equally critical to understand exactly what Luke and Luke's Jesus says about wealth, however, "given the tendency...to shift imperceptibly from the concept `rich' to the concept `rich oppressor' (Johnson, pp 64f.) when we interpret "the Gospel" in such matters.
1b. TEXT: Luke 12:13-21
The Parable of the Rich Fool
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
13Εἶπεν δέ τις ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, εἰπὲ τῷ ἀδελφῷ μου μερίσασθαι μετ' ἐμοῦ τὴν κληρονομίαν. 14ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Ἄνθρωπε, τίς με κατέστησεν κριτὴν ἢ μεριστὴν ἐφ' ὑμᾶς; 15εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς, Ὁρᾶτε καὶ φυλάσσεσθε ἀπὸ πάσης πλεονεξίας, ὅτι οὐκ ἐν τῷ περισσεύειν τινὶ ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ. 16Εἶπεν δὲ παραβολὴν πρὸς αὐτοὺς λέγων, Ἀνθρώπου τινὸς πλουσίου εὐφόρησεν ἡ χώρα. 17καὶ διελογίζετο ἐν ἑαυτῷ λέγων, Τί ποιήσω, ὅτι οὐκ ἔχω ποῦ συνάξω τοὺς καρπούς μου; 18καὶ εἶπεν, Τοῦτο ποιήσω: καθελῶ μου τὰς ἀποθήκας καὶ μείζονας οἰκοδομήσω, καὶ συνάξω ἐκεῖ πάντα τὸν σῖτον καὶ τὰ ἀγαθά μου, 19καὶ ἐρῶ τῇ ψυχῇ μου, Ψυχή, ἔχεις πολλὰ ἀγαθὰ κείμενα εἰς ἔτη πολλά: ἀναπαύου, φάγε, πίε, εὐφραίνου. 20εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ θεός, Ἄφρων, ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ τὴν ψυχήν σου ἀπαιτοῦσιν ἀπὸ σοῦ: ἃ δὲ ἡτοίμασας, τίνι ἔσται; 21οὕτως ὁ θησαυρίζων ἑαυτῷ καὶ μὴ εἰς θεὸν πλουτῶν.
2. ANALYSIS: Luke 12:13-21
Although this reading is often divided into two parts, the two
sections in which Jesus is asked to arbitrate a dispute over possessions and his parable make no sense unless read together. Beware of commentaries which comment on these verses independently. The New English Bible does not even break them into separate paragraphs. While the query put to Jesus has parallels elsewhere, the parable from 16-21 is uniquely Luke's material from his "source." Jesus seems to reject the role of arbitrator. Whether or not this is a Christian "attitude" in cases like this one is irrelevant to the fact that it becomes an occasion for Jesus to raise up one of the greatest dangers in the light of faith in God. It is a public setting, and Jesus often responds to such public inquiries with the gospel's larger picture. His plainly stated truth is that life does not come through an abundance of wealth. I suppose that abundance is deliberately vague, perhaps implying that "abundance" can mean practically any amount. Jesus most explicit warning is against "greed."
The parable and the situation are integrally related in that Jesus takes the situation of this brother's life and uses a parable to subvert that world. This is what parables are designed to do; they explode a conventional world view from the "inside." In this case, Jesus takes a dispute about an inheritance and describes a man whose entire world, securely based upon possessions, will be taken from him. Thus, the parable shatters the life of a rich man who thinks he is secure. The shattering of his life is illustrated by the scattering of his possessions: "You fool, this very night you must surrender your life; you have made your money -- who will get it now?" (v 20). This idea of a parable is to lose one world in order to gain a new and larger, truer world. This rich "fool" has lived without a grasp of life beyond that of gratification, now. As Joseph Fitzmeyer (The Gospel According to Luke, Anchor Bible) says, this person lives "without ever reflecting on what would be the aftermath" of the realization of this ambitious life (p. 971).
The climax of this reading is what God "speaks" to the man as in a
dream. It is followed, however, by a pithy comparison between richness before God and gathering wealth for oneself. One can see, again, that the standards of judgment in this episode transform the way in which we usually evaluate wealth. The rhetoric is clean and climactic, and is followed by further familiar examples in Luke's gospel about ways to measure richness with God (see verses 22-34).
3. STRATEGY: Luke 12:13-21
The vanity of vanities image offered by the author of Ecclesiastes
chapters 1 and 2, appointed for this Sunday, is among the best descriptions for our age. This life and this world has enough contradictions and enough cynicism that it becomes a relief to read a pericope such as this one from time to time. Not long ago, a Boston area convention center was filled to the aisles with model train layouts, cars, trucks, tools and other trade items. Mounted at eye level in this city of model train heaven was a bumper sticker which read, "Whoever dies with the most toys, wins." Some of these people were true competitors in this respect. The fact is that to a great extent, the only proper context for evaluating what Jesus is talking about in this parable is the standard embodied by Christ himself: death. One can talk about barns, surpluses, getting and spending, summer homes, dream vacations, individual retirement accounts, pensions and taking it easy, dream cars, dream houses, dream cars and dream lawns, dream cars... and so forth. But the value of all things becomes clear only in light of death. What is it that one wins by getting the most toys?
I think that it is Saul Bellow who wrote that "getting and spending, we lay waste our powers" in a critique of the kind of life we mostly lead in the 20th century. This raises a question in my mind about what the "powers" are in this connection. Certainly, the most powerful dynamic in our society, the most powerful thing for a politician to say or do, begins and ends with economic matters. We are what we spend, we are what we "have," and we tend to vote for the person or the thing most likely to provide economic power. If, however, we lay waste our "powers" in getting and spending, what are the "powers?" Jesus ask us to judge such things, possessions and wealth, in light of death.
Some Homiletical Ideas:
1) Envy may be the "occupational disease of democracy" wrote a reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, after reading Nelson Aldrich's book about the wealthy in America: "Envy is so integral and so painful a part of what animates behavior in market societies that many people have forgotten the full meaning of the word, simplifying it into one of the synonyms of desire. It is that, which may be why it flourishes in market societies: democracies of desire, they might be called, with money for ballots, stuffing permitted. But envy is more or less than desire. It begins with an almost frantic sense of emptiness inside oneself, as if the pump of one's heart were sucking on air. One has to be blind to perceive the emptiness, of course, but that's just what envy is, a selective blindness. Invidia, Latin for envy, translates as "non-sight," and Dante had the envious plodding along under cloaks of lead, their eyes sewn shut with leaden wire. What they are blind to is what they have, God-given and humanly nurtured, in themselves."-----from Old Money: The Mythology of America's Upper Class, by Nelson Aldrich, Jr., Knopf, 1988 .
2) Ray Stevens published a song written for the modern preachers and their listeners entitled "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex On His Television Show?" The contrast between a biblical view of possessions, and the 20th century phenomenon of wealthy priests of television time can be rather stark, if taking into account the way in which Jesus places all wealth before the backdrop of death and new life:
"Woke up this morning, turned on my TV set.
There in living color was something I can't forget.
This man was preachin' at me, yeah, layin' on the charm,
Askin' me for 20 with 10,000 on his arm.
He wore designer clothing and a big smile on his face,
Selling me salvation while they sang 'Amazing Grace,'
Askin' me for money when he had all the signs of wealth.
I almost wrote a check out, but then I asked myself.
Would He wear a pinkie ring? Would He drive a fancy car?
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds?
Would His dressing room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, there's something I'd like to know.
Can you tell me, would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?
Would Jesus be political if He came back to Earth?
Have His second home in Palm Springs and try to hide His worth?
Take money from those poor folks when He comes back again?
And admit He's talked to all those preachers who say they've been
talking to Him?"
3) Johnny Carson, late host of the NBC Tonight Show, went back to his native Nebraska to watch football and to dedicate a new medical facility designed for the treatment of cancer. He said that people who hit it rich have a moral obligation to "give something back." After watching Nebraska beat Oklahoma State, he was off to his hometown (Norfolk) to dedicate the Lutheran Community Hospital's Carson Regional Radiation Center.
"I've always felt that if anyone is lucky enough to accumulate enough funds to live better than you have a right to, then you have a moral obligation to give something back to the community or to the country or to the place that brought you up," said Carson. He was on hand for the dedication for the facility toward which he gave $650,000 in memory of his late parents.
4. MUSIC SUGGESTIONS: Luke 12:13-21
The appointed LBW hymn of the day was "Jesus, Priceless Treasure" (LBW
#457, #458). LBW #364 "Son of God, Eternal Savior" works well for the Hymn of the Day.
An outstanding hymn for procession or recession would be "O God Our Help
In Ages Past" (LBW 320, 1982 HB #680); "Take My Life That I May Be" LBW #406 picks up on the stewardship themes.
Corporate prayer could benefit from hymns which denote hope: 1982 HB
#635 (LBW #453) "If You But Trust in God to Guide You" also appeals to the
lovers of the German tune by Neumark, and was used by Bach in several cantatas which makes excellent organ chorales available.
Psalm 23 sung to "Brother James' Air" LBW #451 (1982 HB #663 is the
psalm sung to "Crimond") makes an excellent pastoral challenge to the "want and need" of the age.
Exegete: John R. Spangler
Rev. John R. Spangler serves as Executive Assistant to the President for Communication and Planning for the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Ordained by the Lutheran Church in America in 1983, he served as pastor to Christ Lutheran Church, West Boylston, MA and Christ the King Lutheran Church, Nashua, NH. He also served part time on the New England Synod staff as its communications officer for 15 years. John serves on the Board of Governors for the Religion Communicators Council, a national interfaith organization for religious communicators, and as a team leader for the seminary's planning, assessment and governance support staff team. He also serves as president of the Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation, a subsidiary of the seminary. His life partner, the Rev. Dr. Maria Erling, teaches the History of Christianity in North America and Global Mission at the Seminary. He and Maria have two daughters, Marta and Johanna.
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