IX Pentecost, Year C
Hos 11:1-11 or * Eccl 1:2,12-14;2:18-23
Ps 107:1-9,43 * Ps 49:1-12
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD..
* (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities!
All is vanity.
* (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14)
I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
* (Ecclesiastes 2:18-23)
I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me –and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being
renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
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 toward God."
This is a wonderful parable. Like all of Jesus’ parables, its meaning is not restricted to one point. Jesus’ parables interpret our entire existence. This is why you can peel them like onions and continue to discern what a reconsidered worldview looks like. Jesus’ parables on the kingdom of God not only call to mind Jewish popular considerations of God’s kingdom and literary allusions, they also demand that one change one’s frame of reference and begin to see things from the bottom up as it were.
The parable of the rich fool is introduced by Luke with a perfect mimetic conflict between two brothers and an inheritance. Someone had evidently felt ripped off when it came to the family fortune and wanted Jesus, the Just One, to intervene. But Jesus does not judge or mediate in our mimetic doubling. That is something we humans do in our brokenness. Someone in the crowd felt that justice wasn’t being served and tells Jesus what to do. Jesus’ riposte and the subsequent parable should indicate that he was repulsed at the idea of being brought into the middle of a mimetic crisis to be a judge or referee.
Yet how often do we invoke our God to come to our side, to come to our aid? When things get really bad we pray for a deus ex machina. When we are at war and things go wrong, we wonder if God is on our side and we pray harder for God to show forth his mighty hand. And the whole time we are being told that God is not the solution to our mimetic conflicts. Getting God to take sides in our conflicts is something God does not do.
Our mimetic conflicts do something else as well: they blind us to the future and the futility of all our “worldly success”, when all we have really done is to acquire and consume. This acquiring and consumption is almost always at the expense and oppression of others. This is what the rich fool did. Blessed by the creation of the Creator with an abundant crop, he does not give thanks; he has a storage problem. He does not think of his abundance or the possibility of feeding others, he thinks only of his own benefit. He has become selfish and self-satisfied, he has earned his leisure. Both his needs and his wants/desires are met. He just hadn’t counted on one thing: game over tonight. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.
The moral at the end of the story (vs 21) is of a piece with the proclamation of the eschatological Jubilee, where the poor will be fed from the abundance of the land. God feeds the birds of the air without their toiling, how much more will he feed us as we depend on him and seek not to hoard the earth’s abundance? Is Jesus then condemning the rich? “The evangelist prefaces the story with a condemnation of greed (vs 15),” (see the quote by Vermes in our “historical/cultural” section for this week.) With this quote, the misperception of both Luke’s and Jesus’ project is perpetuated. Read the text again. There is no “condemnation” of greed, but a warning against its horrible costs.
The Foolish Farmer of the parable isn’t called “reprobate” or “damned,” but “fool” for the opportunities he’s missed, opportunities to do in the present the things that would have given value to the time he was allotted. This is a theme that began in Luke a few weeks ago and one that will continue to echo for some time. “Life lived in the present is the antidote to mimetic conflict.” Suddenly, Luke’s redaction of the command to take up one’s Cross (“take up your cross daily” and follow me) rings out as something other than the sign of Luke’s concession to the fading of eschatological expectation, and becomes the means of living within it!
The loss of hope, the academic construction imposed on the Third Gospel is precisely what Luke warns against. The inability to trust God for the future produces the need to hoard. Jesus doesn’t differentiate between the victims of “greed.” All are victims, both the greedy who hoard and the greedy whose greed goes unfulfilled.
“The Parable of the Rich but Foolish Farmer, intent on enlarging his barns to cope with a particularly abundant harvest, and contemplating a safe future, foretells sudden apocalyptic doom in the form of death (Lk 12:13-21). The evangelist prefaces the story with a condemnation of greed (vs 15), and concludes it with a contrast between great wealth and religious generosity. However, the underlying lesson, typical of Jesus’ thought, concerns the fundamental impropriety of forward planning in the eschatological age.” We don’t know if Geza Vermes has had bad experiences with insurance agents but he frames the parable succinctly. (The Religion of Jesus the Jew).
If you think preaching on this text is tough, wait until next week. Remember we are talking about more than money here. Money is a medium of exchange. It is a thing we use to measure with. It is a form of substitution. It (re)presents a worldview, a way we view economics and politics that is under consideration in this parable of uncertain temporality. It is the way our (the haves) values work themselves out in our relations to others (the have-nots). If we have been honest, we will have to admit that this Gospel in particular causes us to sweat bullets.
We all know a rich fool or two but we also know many more who are working very hard to survive the present and make it to the future intact (with 401K, IRA, Life Insurance, Savings, Investments, etc). Should we expect anything different in a country where the economy is of greater significance than the current war? Is this parable not a warning to us today? Who is to say how long a life span is; how long ours should be? Is it we ourselves? Or do we recognize God as the source of our life, our abundance, and like God, freely share? Jesus does not condemn the wealthy, he critiques those who place their trust in their accumulated wealth, as though wealth in itself was a sign of the blessing of God.
I cannot think of any more dangerous text to preach on than this. If it is put in the context of our mimetic crises, it is easy to see that certain parties, movements, ideologies, nations and corporations have succumbed to the world view of the rich fool. They plan out a new world order without realizing that history repeats itself. Like the fool, they will be in for a big surprise when history moves through the cycle of mimetic violence until it has found resolution in a scapegoat. Except this time there will be no resolution. The mimetic generative mechanism has been failing for the last several years, there is no world peace. A suitable scapegoat cannot be found. The world is unraveling faster than democracy and freedom can ‘stabilize’ (sic) it. How long do you think we have? How long can the current level of crisis be sustained? At what point of escalation will it become unbalanced? Finally, how do we calculate abundance? Do we see it as our self-right or do we see opportunities to feed others, and thus, feed God (“make ourselves rich before God”). Blessings to you all as you ponder these difficult questions.