This past Sunday, Christian worshippers heard Jesus in Luke’s Gospel challenge them about the discernment of their values. He told a story about a rich man who had produced abundantly that year, and he didn’t have enough room to store his goods in his existing barns.
So, he pulled down the barns and built bigger ones! He was so pleased with his prosperity that at the end of the day he congratulated himself, by making a meal, pouring the best wine around, and saying. “Relax, my soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; Eat, Drink and be Merry!”
We have all been there in some degree. The phrase “eat, drink and be merry” is as old as the writings of the prophet Isaiah, who added "for tomorrow we die!" Trust those prophets to bring us down to earth. No wonder they were for ever hunted down by the population.
In Jesus’ story, Jesus clearly knew the saying from Isaiah. For the story continued: “And God said to the self-congratulatory farmer or landowner, 'You fool! This night your very life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'" Jesus added: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
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We don’t talk much about greed, and yet we are such an insatiable society. Jesus had no such reticence. He introduced his parable with the statement “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Greed is a form of idolatry. Biblical commentator Anne Case-Winters writes “Whenever we take something out of its rightful place in our lives, and raise it to the status of the ultimate, we break the harmony of life”.
Let me share two insightful comments I heard on Sunday in discussion of Jesus’ story. First, “so, the man had a scarcity mindset in an abundant situation?” while the other was that “the safest place the rich man’s goods could have been stored was in the belly of the poor and the hungry.” Both phrases feed our imaginations.
One outcomes of the Russian War against Ukraine has been our understanding of Ukraine as a breadbasket of the world. This week we read of the first ships of grain leaving Odesa for East Africa.
We know too that our own food security is threatened by the war’s (and COVID) knock-on effects. We feel too the impact of human greed that is always out to make a profit off the back’s of another’s need. Jesus always saw it coming, and he sought to fix our eyes upward. “Love God, love your neighbor.”
That has real substance about it. "It’s about giving not getting, serving not ruling, forgiving not avenging” (William Barclay). It’s about discerning our values and learning that being rich towards God is the most abundant way to live in an ever interdependent world.
Bishop Alan Scarfe is filling in for the Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, 1314 Spring Street in St. Helena. She may be contacted at email@example.com. Grace holds Sunday services in person every Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m. and online at www.grace-episcopal.org, and a Spanish-language Eucharist the last Sunday of the month at 4 p.m. To contact the church office about zoom links and donations, use firstname.lastname@example.org.