They say that everyone has a price.
Judging by the recent skyrocketing Mega Millions jackpot this past week the dream of easy money has led to the sales of more than 6000 tickets a minute as of Thursday night.
A recent survey unearthed unsettling images of what people would do for fast money. Perhaps people are exaggerating but the thoughts are disturbing:
- For $10,000,000? They would abandon their entire family, abandon their church; would give up their American citizenships or leave their spouses; would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free.
- for $100,000? They would forge a signature or steal from a restaurant or hotel. And for that same amount, they would enter into a sham marriage, perform a sexual act on a stranger, evade taxes or snatch a purse.
- For $10,0000? They would flash a stranger or steal a street sign, or shoplift; would lie under oath, steal a bike or knowingly spend counterfeit cash for the same price.
Today Jesus is approached by a man motivated by money, he asks Jesus “Teacher tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” The man is making an ordinary request of a rabbi, who often intervened in family disputes. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to inheritance over 200 times, and situations could get complex and family relationships turn sour or divisive. We probably all know of a situation where an inheritance situation caused a family rift. Even one of Jesus’ most famous parables, the prodigal son, is about inheritance laws and how they can drive family members apart.
Yet Jesus is reluctant to be a judge or arbitrator in this case. Instead of addressing the case straight on, he takes a different tact. Jesus instead wants to address the underlying problem that drives most cases like this: greed. We need to be on guard against greed, wherever it crops up; in an inheritance situation or simply in the abundance of possessions we can accumulate in life.
To get this point across, Jesus tells the story about a fellow who becomes rich and whose crops produce abundantly. What a lucky man! His lands are fruitful. There is little he has had to do personally. The crop is a gift. He’s so rich he thinks he has to build even bigger barns to hold all excess grains and goods. Isn’t he exactly the kind of guy we admire? He’s successful and is able to upgrade to a one of these new mini mansions, a fancier bigger ultra-SUV car, designer suits, luxury vacations, all the trappings of the good life. Isn’t this what our culture teaches us - to make enough so we too can relax, eat, drink, be merry?
Yet the individual who is so admired, perhaps to a degree by us, if not by a lot of people is called a fool by God. “You Fool! God says. This very night your life will be required of you.” The Greek word for “required” is a legal term that implies a loan that has come due. Jesus implies here that life is a gift, a loan to us. God gave us this gift of life to invest ourselves in the world and each other. Life, in God’s eyes, is not about getting or consumerism. Life is not for us to squander but for us to engage, to find and express God’s will. The loan of our life is to create a rich relationship with God and with each other not to surround ourselves with riches for our own exclusive benefit.
The absence of family and friends in the rich fool’s life is striking. Whose life has the rich fool prepared and made better from all his work? There is no one. In his conversation, it’s all about me, myself and I. When at last he has built his bigger barns to last him many years, he does not envision a better future for anyone but himself. He has not used his excess grain to feed the hungry, or his goods to help the needy. God asks the rich fool a piercing question, “These things you have prepared, whose will they be?” There is no one. It is all for naught.
The rich fool’s focus on accumulation of wealth was the ultimate purpose of his life, just like what is pursued by millions of Americans with a dollar and a dream, as the lottery tells us. Our lives, loaned to us are meant for activity that is redemptive and other focused. This is the reason for the loan of our lives. We are meant to use our resources, our money, our treasures, to make the world a better place to live, starting with our neighborhood.
When I think of a life loan well invested, I can’t help but think of my mother. When I was baby, my mother ran for public office in order to bring some positive change into the community. My mother had campaign literature printed with my baby mug on it that said, “Time for a new change.” She ran up against a powerful incumbent, and rumors were even spread that there might be a Vatican infiltration in Strongsville, Ohio. My mother lost that election, but she didn’t stop fighting to make her corner of the world a better place.
Unlike the rich fool, my mother, barely had proverbial two coins to rub together. Her barn was never full. She understood her life was a loan from God and she was her to prepare something better. Among the things she did she created a neighborhood watch group that provided loans and grants for home improvement to families of modest incomes. She always found time to help home-bound people get their shopping done. She made and delivered care packages to disabled veterans. She could not pass by wounded animals: she would take the creature to the veterinarian and pay the expenses out of her own pocket. She was not rich like the man in the parable, but she was rich in how Jesus wants us to be rich: to help others. To better the world. That’s what it makes to be rich to with God.
Sadly, our world has reversed these priorities and our culture teaches us to focus on ourselves. Look at our Old Testament lesson from Exodus. The Egyptians enslave the people of Israel to build up an empire for themselves. In this scenario, the enslaved Israelites are just a commodity. Enslaved to their dreams of wealth, they impoverish others. Sadly, that about sums up the current state of affairs in our world. 2,100 people control more wealth than the bottom 4.6 billion.
For everything there is a price. For us, Jesus paid that price on the cross. As we seek to revitalize our lives and our churches, let us remember all we have is a loan from God to enable us to be givers, not getters. To help others. As Matthew 25 reminds us: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick or imprisoned. To put God first in all we do. As we put God first, our lives naturally overflow to embracing others, and we too are blessed as a result. Let us ask ourselves: how’s our loan doing? What does our investment strategy have to say about us? When that loan comes due, what will we have to show for it? The things we have prepared, whose will they be? Remember the saying, you’ll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse. Let us take that loan and transform our energy and resources to building a more just, righteous world. And that would be an inheritance worth sharing. Amen.
- James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth, 1991