Sunday, July 31, 2022
By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector
There are a few topics which our culture considers “off limits”, like for dinner conversation with new friends or at family gatherings. Politics, religion, money. But it’s funny, isn’t it, that some of our least favorite conversation topics seem to be Jesus’s favorites. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches and preaches and prays about those very things like politics and money that make us so uncomfortable. Like in our scripture today. With little obscurity, Jesus talks about greed, about money, about possessions. And while I can’t speak for you all, I found it a little uncomfortable. In part because it’s felt personal, and in part because it was challenging. Is Jesus really asking me to give up my inheritance, or my retirement account? Am I supposed to feel bad for having things? What is Jesus really saying to us here?
Looking at the passage, the younger brother asks Jesus to get involved with his family business. He wants his brother to divide the inheritance with him, and this actually seems pretty reasonable. Wanting to split the family money evenly is a decent way to handle things, but for some reason it sets Jesus off into parable mode. Well, if we look back at the context of the time, we can start to see why. At the time, it was customary for the eldest son to be responsible for the estate, and he did this with the family inheritance. Younger brothers were allowed to have portions of the estate, but the eldest always received more, because he was in charge of more, and supposed to keep things going for future generations to live off of. So, the more the younger brother takes, the less the older brother has to handle the needs of the land and the larger family. Based on that reality, the younger brother starts to look a little less reasonable and a little more greedy…since he’s concerned with his own welfare, over and above anyone else.
To warn the younger brother about the consequences of such a mindset, Jesus tells the story of the landowner whose fields produced abundant crops, so much that they required whole new storage facilities. Things were so good that he was taken care of not only for the present moment, but for the future, and what else was there to do but eat, drink, and be merry. Once again, that seems pretty reasonable. Work hard, play hard. You earned it. But Jesus doesn’t call this man a fool because he worked hard and had savings to show for it. No, Jesus calls him out because of how he thinks about and uses this money, this good fortune.
If you notice, he, like the younger brother earlier, thinks single mindedly about himself and his security. While he’s got enough to be comfortable for years to come, he doesn’t even consider who in the community might need this grain right now, just to keep the children from going hungry tonight. He doesn’t even take time to thank God for this good harvest, or his workers for their labor. His ultimate concern is himself, and this is why Jesus calls him a fool. Not because he has done well, has a plan for the future, or moments of enjoyment, but because he prioritizes them over and above God and neighbor.
Trying to keep priorities straight and focusing on what’s really important is something we can all relate to, something we all strive for, but like the younger brother and the landowner, I bet we don’t always get it right. I certainly don’t. Not because we are terrible people, but because being a person in this world is hard. Everyone and everything wants a piece of our attention and our money and our hearts. And it requires all that we’ve got and more just to keep up with the bills and the payments and our families wants and needs. School, childcare, healthcare, mortgage payments. These things are real and important. And Jesus cares for us and wants us to be taken care of, to be well. But if we aren’t careful, if we aren’t on guard, as Jesus says to the brother, we can so easily be blinded by our own needs that we forget the needs of others. We slip into prioritizing ourselves, and our security, just as the world tells us to, and we start to stow away more and more and more, thinking that we one day we will finally be good enough, safe enough. Meanwhile, we’ve neglected to be rich towards God and the needs of God’s world, and to our neighbors, who are suffering now, struggling to find the sustenance and strength to keep afloat one more day.
Honestly, this mindset is almost inevitable when the culture and the media so deeply shape our worldviews, and then those worldviews shape our choices. But as Paul reminds us in the Colossians reading, we are called to put these earthly influences aside. Because when we set our minds on Christ, instead, and when we let him shape our worldview, then our lives will reflect him. Having been raised with him into new life, in our baptisms, we are being transformed into his likeness. So, the more we set on mind on Jesus, and on the qualities of the Kingdom of God, the more we begin to view the world like Jesus and see our lives and our things and one another like God does.
Have you ever had an experience or a moment when you had this sudden sense of clarity and calm about life? Like your heart string was directly connected to God’s and your view of life aligned with God’s and you maybe even felt small, but in the best way. Or what about an occasion when your heart overflowed with love and care for a cause or a person so much that giving your time and resources was actually joyful, or life giving. That is transformation, or this process of being renewed according to the image of our creator, as Colossians says. And it will shape our worldview and our choices. And it will replace our greed with graciousness. So whether the crops are plentiful or not, we won’t even hesitate to be rich towards God and one another, because we know that, today, empty stomachs needs filling, and children need clothing, and our neighbors need help paying bills.
Just over a week ago, a group from the St Mary’s youth ministry traveled to Wise County, Virginia for a mission trip. We worked with Appalachia Service Project, an organization that works to eradicate substandard housing in Appalachia towns and communities. During our time there, we saw and heard of rotting roofs, and chronically flooded basements, and uninsulated walls, and dirt floors. Not because of neglect or poor choices, but because being human is difficult. And life throws hard things our way. And these people had to make choices everyday about whether to feed the family, or work on the house, or fix the car, or buy new outfits for school.
We were paired with a wonderful, sweet homeowner and the spent the week working on her home and playing with her dogs and meeting her family. She was no stranger to these difficult choices, and the hardship of being a person in this world. The week we were there, she was all excited about payday. She told us someone would drive her to get the check, then to the bank. And I wasn’t exactly sure all that she needed to do with this paycheck, but as can often be the case in systems of rural poverty, I was sure it wasn’t enough to take care of all the things that needed to be taken care of. We continued working on our drywall project while she went out, and as we started to wind down our day, she came home and went straight to the kitchen. The next thing we know, she has brought us bananas, sweet treats, and this great big ol watermelon.
Without a second thought, she took a part of what was given to her that day, and gave it straight to us, because we were guests in her home, and we were working, and it was hot outside. The more we talked to the other groups on our trip, the more we realized that this was a pretty common thing among the homeowners. As soon as the paychecks rolled in, they picked up goodies or cooked up a meal for the volunteers. Yes, they still tended to themselves and the things they needed…but with remarkable humility, they showed us that nothing was more important than the present needs of their neighbor.
Those good people looked a lot like Jesus that week. And I hope that, in the seasons of want and plenty ahead, I might look like them, like him, too. Amen.