Wrestling with Jesus: About Money, Luke 12:13-21
Warring over Wills
Money has a funny way of messing with our hearts. There are a lot of crazy stories that follow the division of an inheritance. The comedian, Matt Wohlfarth, once quipped, “You know what they say, where there’s a will, there’s a family fighting over it.” It’s such a familiar scenario that it often gets used in our culture’s favorite form of storytelling: TV shows and movies. It’s important to remember that all of these stories are rooted in reality.
One story I read describes a daughter that became the executor of her father’s estate shortly before he died. In the six months before he passed away, over $12,000 was taken out of his bank account. He was too ill to withdraw the money himself. Two days after the father’s funeral, the daughter moved into her father’s house, locked her other siblings out, and had the house painted in order to sell it before the will was even read. The relationship of the siblings was ruined. They haven’t spoken since the funeral.
The interesting thing to me about these stories is the level of entitlement people feel over money they didn’t earn! During Jesus’ ministry, he was approached about deciding the proper division of a family’s inheritance. Jesus responded to this question with his own story about the danger of focusing on wealth and possessions.
Money can get in the way of our total devotion to God. We are in danger if we place our trust, comfort, and security in material possessions. In Luke 12, a man in the crowd called out to Jesus and said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). It was common in the Jewish culture for Rabbis to be consulted in important family matters like this. But Jesus refused to give an answer, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” (Luke 12:14). Jesus knows that money does funny things to our hearts.
Jesus goes on to give a warning, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). In his commentary on the gospel of Luke, Darrell Bock writes:
The danger of the pursuit of possessions is that it can make one insensitive toward people. Greed can create a distortion about what life is, because the definition of life is not found in objects, but relationships, especially to God and his will. To define life in terms of things is the ultimate reversal of the creature serving the creation and ignoring the Creator (Rom. 1:18-32). (Darrell L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke, p. 1150)
Jesus knows how easy it is for us to be distracted by the gifts so that we ignore the Giver. Jesus wants us to know that real life, full life, is found in relationship with God. Salvation is what we need the most. Wealth may be a tempting distraction, but our purpose is to be faithful in response to God’s goodness.
Jesus tells the story of a rich farmer whose fields produced an abundant harvest. Notice that the story begins, “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest” (Luke 12:16). The ground yielded an abundant harvest. Pause a minute to consider who controls the soil and its ability to produce an abundant harvest?
The ground produced the harvest, and now the man had a problem, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops” (Luke 12:17). What shall I do with all of my stuff? I have so many things, where will I put them? Scholars point out that in this story there is one word repeated over and over: “my.” My crops. My barns. My surplus grain. The repetition of this pronoun indicates an unhealthy level of self-focus. Remember, the man didn’t make the surplus grain grow, God did that. Remember that Jesus is telling this story to answer a question a man asked about an inheritance he thought he didn’t earn but thought he was entitled to own. What will the rich farmer do with all of his extra grain?
In the story, the man decided to take an action that seems like a practical solution to his problem: He decides to build bigger barns. Having made his plans, he can relax, he tells himself: “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). This self-talk gives us insight into his heart: his plans are self-centered and indulgent. He does not thank God or consider others. Greed has led to self-important comfort.
“But God” (Luke 12:20), it’s important to pay attention to this phrase in Scripture because it signals how God does things differently than we do, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:20). The man in the story had lost sight of God’s ultimate authority over his life. God was about to remind him of this fact. God called for the man’s life. The wealth God gave him, that he had subsequently hoarded, will now go to someone else. The man in the story neglected to love God with his whole heart and he didn’t love his neighbor as he loved himself.
Jesus ends this story by saying, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). The story Jesus told does not condemn wealth or financial planning, but Jesus is pointing out the futility of finding our security in wealth and comfort. Wealth will not secure us a place in heaven. There is real danger in hoarding our possessions, finding our security in what we have, and in forgetting that all that we have is a gift from God. Being on mission with Jesus requires a laser focus on what matters most. Wealth can be a distraction from our true purpose: Being faithful in response to God’s goodness.
Questions to Consider:
Standard discussion questions:
- What was new or compelling to you from this week’s reading?
- What did you learn about who God is from this week’s reading?
- What did you learn about us as human beings from this week’s reading?
- What did you learn about how God interacts with people from this week’s reading?
- How might this week’s reading change the way you live?
- What questions did you have about this week’s reading?
Discussion questions that are specific to this week’s reading:
- What are some ways that money can get in the way of our total devotion to God?
- How did the rich farmer come to have an abundant harvest? What produced the harvest?
- What is interesting about the one word that is repeated throughout the story (see Luke 12:17-19)?
- In the story, God claims the farmer’s life that “very night.” What does Jesus mean for us to learn from this part of the story?
- How does this story relate to the idea of being on mission with Jesus?