Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Greedy or Rich Toward God?

In Luke 12:13-21, when someone in the crowd asks Jesus to "tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me," Jesus responds, in part, by saying, "Take care! Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." That phrase "all kinds of greed" caught my eye this morning. There's more than one kind of greed?

The man's request has to do with money--the division of an estate--but Jesus seems to be pointing to a deeper problem. He might be greedy after money, but the fact that he's asking Jesus to help him solve a sibling dispute suggests that he is also greedy in other ways. For some reason, he's not willing to address his problem directly. His appeal to Jesus as a religious authority suggests that he sees his own personal need for compensation and fairness as a religious or moral issue. Jesus, however, doesn't think so. Should the estate be divided? Jesus ignores that question completely. Instead, he directs the man's focus back on the priorities of God's kingdom.

The parable that follows teaches us to store up treasures not for ourselves but to be "rich toward God." What does it mean to be rich toward God? That use of economic language is dangerous and damning. It's as if Jesus is using the confusion of images--monetary and religious--to point out the incompatibility of those spheres. As the surprise delivered in the parable stresses, we are rich toward God by living in the today of God's kingdom--not seeking our own comfort or security or leisure in isolation.

We are greedy for security. Most of the time that shows up as a desire for money, but it runs deeper than that. We are greedy for control. We are greedy for recognition. We are greedy for protection. We are greedy for our own provision without regard for others. A man whose relationship with his brother is being torn apart by an estate is a sign of deep brokenness. That Jesus was asked to intervene is a sad pronouncement on this man's perspective. Has he really lost sight of what matters? Has he become so blinded by greed--not only for money but for an arbitrary sense of equity that that money might convey--that he cannot be reconciled to his brother? Greed blinds us. It isn't easy to be rich toward God because that means accepting poverty toward ourselves. But isn't it worth it?

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