Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
Blessings are not earned. Nothing we can do can make God love us more, and we cannot force a blessing out of God however amazing our actions or attitudes. The same with forgiveness – we do not earn it, but receive it because God is good and the divine nature is always to show kindness. When Jesus said ‘a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God’ he was pointing our thinking in the same direction. Life in all its fullness (John 10.10) is not about being wealthy – albeit that poverty robs life of its abundance. An abundant life is one in which we know we are loved, and know that God cares what we do. It is an awareness of our dependence upon God and how blessed we are to be able to depend on God. That is the treasure in heaven (Matt 6.19-21) which Jesus introduced in his sermon on the mount. The thing it would be worth selling everything you have to own (Matt 13.45-46).
This rich man probably believed that his great wealth and the power it conferred were signs that God was pleased in him. But, as Spiderman, Churchill, and Roosevelt would have it: with great power comes great responsibility. The rich fool tries to hoard his money and power; to be able to manipulate the market by selling his grain only when the price is high. He plans to kick back and retire happy, living off the profits. But as God kindly points out, he cannot bring his wealth into heaven, and what good is it to him when see from eternity? How we spend or hoard money affects our spirit, and changes our relationship to God. Better, then, to think of earthly wealth not as a treasure or a blessing, but as a responsibility, a stewardship task. Jesus cares what we do with our money, and what our money gets up to as it travels around the world.
Generous God, as I put my hand in my pocket today may I be conscious that everything I have comes from you. Let me test my spending against your words and my saving against your intentions. Amen.
The Revd Dr ’frin Lewis-Smith is minister to the URCs in Darwen and Tockholes