More Than Enough
Laura Healy, Associate Pastor July 31, 2022
Many of you have heard my definition of a parable during Children’s Time.
I say: Parables are stories that help us understand things. Whenever Jesus wanted to help his friends understand something that was hard – or very different from what they already knew, he told a story, a parable, to help them understand.
In the scripture we just heard, someone from the crowd says “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” This seems like a reasonable request. And Jesus tells this parable in response. This parable goes by several names: the parable of the greedy farmer, the parable of the rich fool, the Common English Bible titles this scripture simply “the warning against greed”. I have a friend who calls it the parable of the barn guy. As I worked on this sermon and processed the story at the dinner table and the breakfast table and my desk and many many places in between I sometimes called it The Terrible Parable. Because on the surface, this parable seems pretty unfair.
The farmer has a great harvest, more than he planned for, a bumper crop! He has so much that he doesn’t have the space to store it all – so he decides to build a bigger barn and enjoy the fruits of his labor. This seems like a good thing, it seems fair. The parable doesn’t say he stole the harvest or abused his farm hands. He seems to have come by his bounty legitimately. So, God’s harsh denunciation “You fool!” comes as a bit of a shock – and then the farmer dies suddenly and all his bounty and his barn building are for naught.
It reminds me of the story of two people attending the funeral of a friend- one of them asks “How much did he leave behind?” and the other answers, “Everything.”
As a culture, we really don’t like to talk about money or wealth. I was raised to believe that such topics are impolite, but Jesus talks about wealth and money a lot. And it is hard to consider parables like these in the context of our modern world. This parable raises difficult and uncomfortable questions and maybe all we can really do is wrestle with them. There are no easy answers to the hard sayings of Jesus.
It seems to me; the rich farmer is not condemned for his bounty but for his choice to leave God completely out of the equation. This parable illustrates simply and memorably the futility of choices made in isolation from the love of God.
It reminds us that no amount of wealth can secure our relationship with God, in fact, Jesus repeatedly warns (as does John Wesley) that wealth can get in the way of our relationship with God. This parable reminds us that life is not defined by what you have even if you have a lot.
The rich farmer celebrates his bounty but appears to forget just where his bounty came from. In his focus, on solving his problem (he has too much, and his barn is too small) he forgets about God and other people – and oh my gosh, don’t we all do that sometime?! When a problem is pressing in on us and we are trying to fix it or find a solution… The rich farmer never stops to ask – what would God have me do right now?
This parable raises some questions for us – how often do we stop and ask that important question – what would God have me do right now? What does it mean to be rich towards God? And how much is enough?
Enough is not a word we hear much from the cultural drumbeat in our ears and on our cell phones. More! Is more often the message we receive. And here is where this parable gets sticky for us. We believe it is good to make money and be successful. We believe it is important to have more than what we need for our daily bread because someday our kids will go to college – or graduate school, or our elderly parents will need to be taken care of, or we will be ready to retire – and the bigger barn, the places where we store our bounty – is what will make these good things possible.
I believe it’s not that God doesn’t want us to save for our future needs. It’s not that God doesn’t want us to enjoy what we have earned. It is, I think, about perspective. It’s about priorities. It’s about how our lives are fundamentally aligned: toward ourselves or toward God, towards ourselves or towards God’s work to bless and redeem this world. Are we focused on our own plans or on the Kingdom of God?
I find it helps to read this parable in context. We find it here in the middle of Luke sandwiched between Jesus teaching about prayer and his urging to:
Ask and it will be given to you.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened for you.
And then this from Chapter 12, the 22nd verse:
… Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens; they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you…
Are you beginning to see where the rich farmer went wrong? What matters is our relationship with God. What matters is that we know, deep in our hearts, that everything we have comes from God. And that God is counting on us, in the midst of all this bounty, to do God’s good work in this world.
In his book, The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne writes: …for some strange reason, God doesn’t want to change the world without us. There are times when we throw up our hands at God and say “Do something!” and if we listen closely we can hear God’s response, “I did do something. I made you.” Sometimes we are waiting on God and sometimes God is waiting on us.
So, in light of our greedy farmer, how do we make better choices for our lives? Richard Rohr says the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. We can make our choices with God as our touchstone. We can always remember where our bounty comes from. And we can live by a saying as simple as this one.
If you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.
May it be so.