Here in North Dakota there is a pretty high rate of suicide among senior citizens. Here is what I’ve been told. They retire without a plan of what to do next. They sit alone on their farm or in their house and feel as if they are no longer useful. They thought that retirement was going to be a rest after many years of working hard. They thought the goal was to work hard so that you will be set financially enough to live out the rest of their days just eating, drinking and being merry. But that very rest they have been working so hard for is the very thing that sends them spiraling into a depression. The problem is not having enough to retire on. The problem is thinking that the goal of life is to get to the point where we can say to our soul, “Eat, drink, and be merry.”
Jesus taught with authority. It is no surprise then, that someone would desire that he use that authority to settle their family issues. So, as Jesus is speaking to the crowd a lone voice in the crowd cries out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” We don’t know if this man’s concern was justified or not. It really is not important to the story. The important this is that this man assumed that Jesus’ position and authority could be used to his own advantage. Even if he is being wronged by his brother, this is a bad assumption. We can be relatively sure that this is a younger brother. The older brother was in charge of the family inheritance. And that older brother could and did find ways to avoid giving what was due to his younger siblings. This man may have been justified in his complaint.
Jesus responds with what appears to be a quote from Exodus 2:14, “Man, who appointed me a judge or divider over you?” In Exodus this is from the mouth of a Hebrew after Moses tried to make him stop beating another Hebrew. Okay, so in the Exodus account, there may be some irony. The man asked who made Moses prince or a judge over us. And that is exactly what God will do later in the story. Maybe there is irony here as well. Jesus is judge, but he is not this man’s personal judge and his authority is not about settling family financial fights. His authority is not for the purpose of gathering possessions. That is why he warns against every form of greed here. The word “greed” has the idea of always wanting more. Guard against the greed that is never satisfied. Even if you have an overflowing amount of things, your life is not all about what you have. You are not your possessions. Nice try BMW guy.
Parable time! There was this wealthy land owner who had a very successful season; so successful that his barns were just too small to store it all. So, he began to reason things through with himself. This may be a narrative device to allow us to get a glimpse of his thoughts, or it may emphasize that he didn’t have any friends with whom he could consult. Maybe both. It is true that in Middle Eastern society, people usually didn’t make decisions without hashing it over with friends and family. Anyway, his solution to the problem is to tear down the old barns and build bigger ones; barns large enough to store up all of his excess. Then this man says to himself, “Soul, you have done very well and with many years of hard work you have come to the place where you can just kick back and eat, drink and be merry.” Sirach 11:19 says, “I have found rest and now I will eat of my good things.” Verse 20 has, “Persevere in your duty, take pleasure in doing it, and grow old at your work.” If Jesus has this passage in mind, which is plausible, he is saying that the issue is not having a bumper crop – the issue is thinking that the end of the day is about selfish rest. That all of our work is about us eating, drinking and being merry while others go hungry.
The Jewish people believed that our life was a gift from God which he could demand back any time. Life is in his hands. And that is what happens to this man. God says, “Time is up on your lease.” And what did the man gain? He has no one to leave anything to. His whole goal was to rest and enjoy and now he cannot. It is okay if you are rich in this life. But make sure you are rich toward God. Lay up your treasures in Heaven. The Jewish people also believed that all of their possessions actually belonged to God and that they were just stewards. If you have wealth, that wealth is intended to work for God. It is intended to feed the poor. And this is probably the main problem in this parable. Notice that in the man’s soliloquy, it was “I” and “my.” He didn’t consult anyone else, not even God. He thought all of God’s blessings were about him. If you are blessed, God has blessed you so that you can bless others. Don’t allow your things to control you. Don’t say to your soul, “eat, drink and be merry.” Grace and peace.