[Jesus] said to them: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
What does your life consist of? That is the question posed by Jesus’ statement. He states clearly: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” But how many people would agree with that statement? How many live in concert with those words? Do you? Jesus’ statement runs against the thinking of most individuals. Think on how people behave. How much emphasis is placed on the securing of income and acquiring of goods?
We have several television networks that provide round-the-clock reporting on economic data. The health of our country’s life is measured in the Gross Domestic Product. Decisions are made based upon how much is being consumed and purchased by the general public. The out-of-control amount of spending of the past decade has now led to commercials telling us to “Feed the Pig!” emphasizing the importance of having cash assets saved up for a secure life instead of spending money on frivolous things. The opposite message of Jesus’ statement is pushed: that life does consist in the abundance of possessions.
Such is the thinking of the world, but not the thinking of God. This is why Jesus makes His statement. In today’s Gospel Reading, you heard how Jesus was confronted with the world’s thinking: “Someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” The demand comes from a man in the crowd. He had been listening to Jesus. He had heard Jesus speak about great heavenly eternal truths, even speaking about authority. But what does the man want from Jesus? To have Him settle a dispute over money. Such demand comes from a mindset consistent with the world: that what is truly important is to have possessions; that the measure of life is in what one owns.
This way of thinking is vain and empty, the thinking of the world. It misses what is truly valuable and precious. So Jesus says: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” To illustrate this point, Jesus tells a story about a rich farmer: “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear 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.’” This rich farmer in the parable has his life set and secure, for he believes that life does consist in the abundance of possessions. Note what the man trusts: for many years he has ample goods laid up. The pig has been fed. The farmer has everything that he thinks he needs.
But Jesus’ parable continues: “But God said to [the rich farmer], ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” The rich farmer has all that he could need, but he has missed what is truly important. For this he is called “Fool!” He is foolish, lacking true sense, true wisdom. What was lacking? He had determined that his life was set and secure, but he had the wrong assessment of life. That wrong assessment of life is what Jesus warns all His hearers, including you, against.
To consider that life consists of the abundance of possessions makes it vanity. The Lord God speaks of life as eternal, as lasting. Yet all possessions are temporal and transient. Think of all things that you own. After your death, they will no longer be yours. They will not be yours eternally. But how much effort is put into acquiring them? The observations of the Preacher deals with that effort: “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? . . . So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. . . . What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest.” And what does he say about how wise all that is? The Preacher states: “This also is vanity.”
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. . . .” The Preacher laments the foolishness of it all. There is no wisdom in the thought that life consists of the abundance of possessions. That is why Jesus calls the rich farmer in the parable: “Fool!” The man had no wisdom because he had focused on the things of this world. But wisdom is given from God Himself when He reveals His will to humanity and when the hearts, minds, and souls of humans are renewed to understand, believe, and rely on that will. This is what the Apostle Paul speaks of when he says: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Place your focus, your attention, your faith in what is greater than this transient, vain, earthly life and all its trappings.
But why should this be done? “For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” No, the amount of what you possess does not make up your life. Rather, your life consists of being in a right relationship with God the Father, put there through what Christ Jesus has accomplished in His death and resurrection, delivered to you by the Holy Spirit. That is where you have life. Life isn’t made up of what you acquire for yourself. No, life has been accomplished for you and given to you. It is found above in Christ, yours because of what Christ has done here on earth below.
This truth about life is stated by the Apostle Paul: “If then 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 appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Note what the apostle says has happened to you: you have died and you have been raised with Christ. That is baptismal language. It describes the reality that you have already experienced. That experience of baptism has given you a new identity. You are God’s people and His will has been revealed to you. You possess His wisdom, including the wisdom about life.
So where is your life? What does your life consist of? Not the abundance of your possessions. The things you own are yours for the here and now, but they do not comprise your life. Rather, you can think of what you learned in the Small Catechism: “[God] also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” The items listed—the abundance of possessions—do not comprise life, but are given to support it. Instead, life is found in hidden with Christ in God. Christ’s righteousness; His merits; His resurrection; His victory over sin, death, and Satan—these things comprise your life. For through them you are regenerated and renewed. You are given the wisdom that comes from above, so that you know what pleases God and you want to do it. And what you lack in such desire and accomplishment is made up for by Christ’s perfect obedience to His Father’s will.
These heavenly and divine things are what last. They are eternally for you. The possession of those heavenly things is what your soul can rely on. Unlike wealth or property or fame, they are not taken away from you at the end of your earthly lives. No, they are yours for all time. So you can rely on what Christ gives you—that which makes you “rich toward God.” The rich farmer’s statement can be rephrased. Remember what he said: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” The problem was that he was thinking about all his grain and goods stored up in his new barns.
What Christ desires you to say is this: “I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for all eternity; relax, eat, drink, be merry. Those goods aren’t my possessions, but what my Lord has brought to me. Those goods aren’t the harvest of the field, but the fruit of His labor and cross. So I can rest, knowing that Christ has accomplished my salvation. I can eat and drink what my Lord provides, His divine food that brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. I can be merry and rejoice, since my condemnation has been lifted from me.” This would be a great statement of true faith in what Christ Jesus provides, in the things that are greater than this world.
In fact, you can go back to what the man said to Jesus and rephrase that: “Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’” It was true that Jesus was not there to deal with such a mundane, earthly matter of dividing property; He was there to bring salvation. And because Jesus has done so, you can say: “My baptism made me a member the Father’s household. Before I even asked, Christ my Brother and Lord divided His Father’s eternal, heavenly inheritance with me.” So you need not covet the things of this world, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Trust instead the eternal truth: “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.