Bribing God

Bribing God

Luke 12:13-21

James C. Denison

The latest Batman movie has grossed $300 million faster than any film in history. I’ve seen it, and was amazed and frightened by Heath Ledger’s Joker along with the rest of the audience. It’s called The Dark Knight for good reason—don’t go expecting a comedy. But while I enjoyed seeing Batman at work, he’s not my favorite superhero.

When I was a boy, I wanted to be Superman, more than anything in the world. I wanted to fly so badly that once, as a boy of six or so, I actually cut out cardboard wings, taped them to my t-shirt, and jumped from the roof of our house. With predictable results, unfortunately. But the reason I so wanted to fly wasn’t just to miss the traffic on the Tollway—it was because I wanted to know what is really “up there.” I still do.

Have you ever looked up into the sky and wondered if this is all there is? If there isn’t something beyond what you can see, more to life than what you can touch and measure?

In the last month I’ve been privileged to study and speak in some beautiful places—from Interlaken and the Swiss Alps to the hill country of Texas. I watched people in Switzerland paragliding from the tops of towering mountains to green meadows thousands of feet below, and decided they were insane.

I’ve eaten German sausage in restaurants where cholesterol was invented. I’ve written Bible studies and sermons for the fall from the porch of a glorious hill country home overlooking majestic sunsets and tree-topped ridges as far as the eye can see.

And through it all, in my deepest soul I sensed that there is something missing, something more. You know the feeling, don’t you? You’ve stood before paintings produced by artistic genius and felt that they were not enough. You’ve heard concerts where world-class orchestras played some of the greatest music ever composed, and felt that something was missing. You’ve read literary masterpieces or seen great movies and sensed it in your spirit. You’ve watched a sunset and known there was something beyond. In our deepest being, we sense that this is not all there is. Don’t we?

I’ve come today to ask some momentous questions. According to Jesus, your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions. Why not? In what does it consist? Let’s walk through his parable, then learn why it is God’s word for us this morning.

Are you living for creation?

A “crowd of many thousands” has gathered to hear Jesus (Luke 12:1). One of them shouts out to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (v. 13).

The law was clear: two-thirds of the estate to the older brother, one-third to the younger (Deuteronomy 21:17). This dispute didn’t require a rabbi but a judge, so Jesus replied, “Man [better translated ‘Sir’], who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” (v. 14).

On its surface, the question seems simple enough. But Jesus knew somehow there was more to the story, that greed was the true motive here. Perhaps the man wanted his part of the estate before their father died, or their mother passed away, or their family’s needs had been met.

So Jesus said to “them,” not just “him,” addressing the entire crowd: “Watch out!” The Greek is strong: “Take cover!” or “Look out!” For what? “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (v. 15).

“Greed” translates “covetousness” in the original, the sin of coveting. The basic theological definition is choosing to sin for material gain. “Greed” is one of the so-called “seven deadly sins,” because it leads to all sorts of other sins. People steal out of greed, and lie, and manipulate, and kill.

By contrast, Jesus’ life lesson is simple: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Such a statement was shocking to their culture, as it is to ours. Jesus knew he had to prove his point, so he told them a story.

It starts this way: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop” (v. 16). In this particular year, his land yielded even more than they expected.

Now he had a problem: “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops” (v. 17). If his grain was not put under shelter, it would mold and be useless. He has already filled his normal storage silos, and has nowhere else to put his crops.

Imagine you’re the CEO of an oil company which makes a discovery so large you have nowhere to store all your oil or gas. Or you’re Tom Hicks and the Rangers have finally found a pitching staff, so more people are coming to games than the stadium will hold. Or we suddenly start seeing bigger crowds than our Sanctuary and Great Hall and gymnasium can accommodate. What would we do?

We’d do what he did: “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods” (v. 18). Nothing unusual in this, just good business sense. So far, so good. But then comes the almost-inevitable result of such financial prosperity: “I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years'” (v. 19a). That’s true. He has enough grain, enough money in the bank as it were, to live and prosper for years to come. But then he says to himself, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (v. 19b). The Greek literally says, “keep on resting, eat and drink when necessary, and be merry always.”

In all his calculations for his prosperous future, our rich farmer has forgotten one simple fact. For any of us, it can be true that “this very night your life will be demanded from you” (v. 20a). When it is, “who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (v. 20b). Not you.