Friday, July 30, 2010

Some notes on Luke 12:13-21

I notice as I've been reading commentaries on the following gospel lesson for Sunday:

Luke 12:13-21
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." 16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

that readers focus on the wealth aspect, that the man is rich, or that he is solipsistic, speaking "I" and of himself frequently. Furthermore, people often mention that the foolishness is in his seeking security. These are all worth noticing. However, I think a few other observations are important for rounding out preaching and teaching on this text:

1) Jesus' parable is precipitated by someone in the crowd asking Jesus to be a judge who will divide inheritances. So the parable arises out of that context. Maybe the most important thing to note is that Jesus is NOT telling people how to divide their money, or share it. He divests himself of that role.

2) This parable reads incredibly differently if you live in a community where there are lots of farmers who store their crops in bins. In this context, verses 17-18 simply seem like wise and prudent things to do and think. Verse 19 sounds really ill-informed, and it's not the kind of thing most farmers who fill bins think. Altogether, it's a hard passage to read in a farm context. It's also a hard parable to read given that I'm the son of a farmer with a large bin site who stores his grain.

3) All of which leads to the assignment I give myself whenever I read this parable, to pay attention to the agrarian context of it while at the same time thinking clearly and distinctly about how it can be the preaching of the gospel in a rural, agrarian context. For those who read it in other contexts, I would encourage them to read it first of all as a parable that takes place on a large farm, and not move too quickly to talking about wealth, etc., in the abstract.

4) What does it mean to be rich toward God? If you return to the original question, "Jesus, tell my brother to divide the inheritance." Imagine if the speaker had said, "Jesus, help me make use of any inheritance I receive for the good of my neighbor." Or in the case of the farmer, instead of eating, drinking, and being merry, imagine him saying, "I have enough grain stored up for many years that can be used for my own sustenance and the good of my neighbor."

5) Where are the true riches? They're in Christ. Re-read the parable as a Christological parable.

1 comment:

  1. Lise K10:52 AM

    Good post, Clint!
    Seems like people are always asking Jesus how to divide, distinguish, prioritize (to use a modern word!). I'm thinking of the lawyer who wants to know "Who is my neighbor?" And he answers those questions, but not at all in the way we expect.