Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce stirred up the media this week when he said that he was struggling financially to support his families even though he earns well over $200,000 per year.
You can imagine there was not much support or sympathy for him.
In explaining himself he said that what he was trying to say was that if he is struggling on that sort of income he can’t imagine how families on Centrelink do it.
Subsequently he called for a rise in Centrelink benefits.
There is nothing that becomes more divisive when it’s an issue involving money.
Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables told by Jesus were concerned with how to handle money and possessions.
In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money.
In fact one commentator said that Jesus spoke more about money than he did about love.
And in one passage in the New Testament we have a combination of both – the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
Note however that this is often misquoted as money is the root of all evil.
As a result, financial success and owning of possessions has often made Christians uncomfortable feeling a sense of guilt.
Likewise the parable that Jesus spoke is also often misunderstood and misused.
I’ve heard it explained that the rich man was being punished by God because of his greed.
But it doesn’t say that.
Nor does it say that he is wrong for having such great wealth.
And there are 2 statements that that confirm this and become the teaching of this parable;
Firstly Jesus’ reason for calling him a fool.
His exact words: `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
It’s very similar to the book in the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes that says:
I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.
So Jesus criticism was because he had built up all this wealth and did nothing with it.
He stored it up in bigger barns and then his life ended and it went to someone else.
Remember that the original context for the question was about inheritance.
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
And who knows what that person inheriting the property will do with their inheritance
Who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish?
Remember what the Prodigal Son did with his inheritance?
Money and possessions are not evil in and of themselves – they are part of the way that God blesses us so we can live our daily lives.
It is part of our daily bread than enables us to buy the things we need in life.
But God often blesses us with more than we need and he does so for us to help and support others who don’t have enough.
We could ask why doesn’t God just give it directly to them.
That’s part of the mystery of our fallen world where God has provided ample but we see the Western world in health crisis through obesity and the 3rd world in health crisis through starvation and malnutrition.
But it is also how we learn about generosity.
If everyone had all that they needed we would never experience the joy of giving to others.
God gives us abundance to use to help others.
Remember the parable Jesus taught about the 3 workers and their talents.
One had 5 and earned 5 more.
One he gave 2 and he earned 2 more.
But to the other he gave 1 talent and he buried it in the ground to keep it safe so he could give it back to his master intact and unused.
God wants us to use what he has given to us to help and support others.
Even when you use it to go and buy yourself a cup of coffee you’re helping the store owner to earn his income.
The rich man was foolish because he simply built bigger barns instead of using his riches he had stored up his wealth and didn’t get to use it in his lifetime.
The 2nd teaching that comes from this text is its very last verse:
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
Again, this is not critical of those who have an abundance but of those who through their abundance have forgotten about their need for God in their life.
Again look at where the problem was.
It wasn’t that he had stored up treasures for himself but in his richness he was not rich towards God.
Fundamentally this is restating the first and greatest commandment.
Loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbour as ourselves.
And so we see our resources as means to love and care for our neighbour in need as we would for ourselves.
The issue here was removing God and neighbour from his life.
Listen again to his self-motivated actions:
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull 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.
If God has richly blessed you – thank him.
If God has given you abundantly – ask him for guidance and how to use it.
God has given to us possessions to use for the good of all, including God, including our neighbour, including ourselves.
Remember when Mary used the expensive perfume to anoint Jesus?
Judas wanted it sold and used to help the poor.
But Jesus said no.
This perfume had been set aside for his own use.
We shouldn’t feel guilty about the blessings God gives to us.
What we need to be careful of is that they don’t become the focus of our security and selfish pleasure as they did for the rich fool in our parable.
It was not the riches that were the issue but his heart.
His riches became the focus of his devotion and he himself became the source of his thanks and gratitude:
And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.
We can easily demonise the blessings which God has abundantly blessed us with but like everything – it is about our heart and where it is focused.
It is about where your security is as Luther says in his Large Catechism when explaining the First Commandment:
Anything you set your heart on and rely on is really your god.
As St Paul says – the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil – not money.
The love of anything over God is root of all kinds of evil.
But the love of God and neighbour means that the blessings we receive – the abundance of property and possessions we receive – we use to help our neighbour in need.
As Jesus once said – I was hungry and you gave me something to eat – I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink – I was naked and you clothed me.
So the poor rely on the generosity of those who have plenty and that’s where the rich fool went wrong.
He used his abundance to secure his own future instead of following the example and love of God who gave up all he had to ensure our eternal future.
And his Son Jesus Christ our Lord who emptied himself for us and humbled himself to provide us with all spiritual blessings and to give us life and life abundantly.