(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
The Gospel for this Sunday has a shocking beginning. Someone asks Jesus for help and—wait for it—Jesus does not help. What?
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you? Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Greed? The person in the crowd wants justice. He wants what is right and fair.
We think of Jesus as being all about justice—doing what is right and fair. So, when this person asks him to be a judge, to act justly, why does Jesus refuse?
It seems that Jesus does not want to get involved with squabbles over possessions. Perhaps he figures we can solve these things out on our own. Perhaps he thinks we can act justly all by ourselves. But how can we?
Jesus tells a parable to help us understand.
“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.’ 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?’
How can this parable help us to act justly?
The first thing Jesus mentions is the land. Not the rich man. Perhaps the land holds the key to understanding what is right and just.
The land produces abundantly, Jesus says. This reminds us of the story of creation, in the first book of the Bible.
Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:11-12).
The ancient peoples who tell us this story know something very important. They know that the land produces every good thing because God makes it this way. In response to God's word, the land produces—every good thing offered to God. Every good thing offered by the land becomes gift to the people who come later, the people live upon the land. All is gift. The ancient people know this.
They also know that working upon the land is also a gift from God. They tell us,
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food (Genesis1:29).
God gives the land to people to provide them with food. People have to work, of course. Work is good; it is gift to participate in creating with God.
Does the land belong to the people? Do the crops they grow belong to them?
In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. Gift for all.
When the man in the parable wants to create bigger barns for the crops, he calls them "my crops." What is he focussing on? Is he focussing on the gift of his work, on the gift of the land, on gift for all? Or is he focussing on possessing the crops, possessing the land, possessing for him?
His focus is wrong. He has forgotten the gift.
God calls him, "you fool." How would that feel? How awful to realize that his whole life has been gift and he never gave thanks. He never offered praise. He could have offered his life to God rather than wait until it was demanded of him. Now it cannot be a gift back to God.
Jesus offers his whole life to God before ever the soldiers come to demand it of him. He offers his life to us. He offers it to God. He makes his life a gift. Right and just.
How can this parable help us to act justly? How can it help us to focus on what is right and just? If we focus on our gifts—the gift of our work, the gift of our life—we will no longer see possessions, but offerings we can make. Right and just.