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All the things money can’t buy

By AL EARLEY

Religion Columnist

A man asked Jesus to solve an inheritance dispute. This is certainly a common situation, since many inheritances are disputed.  Jesus warns him, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15).”  This is a hard message for us to remember in our times.  Perhaps you received your credit card bill this week, and you have come to the realization that you will be paying for Christmas for months to come.  Bills, mortgages and credit charges can suck the spiritual life out of us. 

No one understood this better than Jesus did.  He spoke often about money, and used money as an illustration to teach about living an obedient life through faith in God.  For example, Jesus tells the simple and powerful parable about a rich fool (Luke 12:13-21).

You will note the rich man has done nothing criminal, nor anything stupid from a business point of view.  His farm has yielded great crops, so much that he can afford nice new barns and still live comfortably for the rest of his life.  But then he said something that betrayed the sin of his heart.  He said to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for the rest of your life.  Eat, drink and be merry.”  And Jesus’ Jewish audience will recognize his sin immediately.  The farmers did not live on their farms, spread out from one another as our farmers do.  They lived in a village together, with their farms surrounding the village and talked about everything.  If farmer Ishmael wanted new barns, everyone would help him think through it.

It was unheard of for a farmer to tear down old barns, build up new ones and retire young without consulting his friends for guidance.  His conversation with himself indicates he has no friends.  He is not close to God.  And after years of hard work, he has achieved financial security for life and believes he does not need anyone else.  Just when he thinks he’s made it, he dies and is found as poor in the harvest of faith in God as he is rich in the harvest of the field.

Jesus does not tell this parable so we can listen comfortably and condemn the rich fool.  Jesus wants us to look within, and see the part of us that always thinks we deserve more inheritance.  How often are we tempted to work long hours to have all the things money can buy, and wait to seek all the things that money can’t buy?  When death comes, will we be found lacking in riches toward God?

Imbedded in this parable is insight into one of the great ironies of life.  The most important things in life are the most easily postponed.  This becomes clearest when we must face death.  For death is a great teacher.  When it intrudes, it adds perspective to our lives.  Smaller concerns scurry away in the presence of death. 

Pastor Martin Copenhaver offers some interesting insight as he imagines making a pastoral call on the widow of the farmer.  She must think about his life for planning the funeral.  She ponders what was important to him.  She thinks his family was very important, although she’s not sure the children knew it.  Church was important, even if he didn’t attend often.  He believed in God, but he just got busy with the farm. This year he had another bumper crop.  He decided to build new barns, and then he promised he would slow down, and we would take those walks again like we did when we were young.  (Best Sermons #3, Sermon by Martin Copenhaver, “Building Barns, Postponing Life”, pp. 256-259). 

How often are you tempted to work long hours to have all the things money can buy, and wait to seek all the things that money can’t buy?  Have you ever had a loved one die?  What were the important things to think and talk about then?  What is important to you?  How do you spend your time?  Do the answers to these last two questions complement each other, or seem to indicate some changes would be healthy?  Do you believe all time belongs to God?  How can you live today as if that is true in your life?