Luke 12:13-21, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost C, August 4, 2013
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
I will be honest with you – I don’t know much about farming. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, so the only time that I saw livestock was when I went to a petting zoo. In third grade, my class incubated some chicken eggs, but as soon as the eggs hatched, they went back to the farm. We went as a class to visit the farm where the chicks went, but that was all that farms were for me growing up – field trips.
I have always been a city girl; this was most evident to me once I moved away from home. When I was at Wartburg College, sometimes the wind would blow a certain way and we could smell the nearby farms. My friends would say that it smelled like money, but I just thought it smelled like stinky pigs. I rarely have grown anything from the seed, so I’m not sure that I truly appreciate today’s gospel lesson.
In the parable, there is this farmer. He has worked really hard all season long, and he is blessed with a great crop. He is so excited that he has a bumper crop, even though he has nowhere to put the extra grain! He decides that he needs a bigger barn to hold his goods, so he plans to tear down his current barn and build a bigger one. From his perspective, he didn’t do anything wrong.
And here is where my lack of farming experience comes in. I don’t know how much work this man did to grow his crops. I don’t know how much land he owned or if he had any help on the farm. I don’t know how the other farmers around him fared that harvest season.
I may not know much about modern farming, and I certainly have never done any farming myself, but I do know my Bible. In the early biblical period, meaning before King David, the early Israelites wrote a lot of laws about living on a farm. This agrarian lifestyle was crucial to their survival. Each farmer didn’t have much, so what they did have they valued greatly.
The laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus are severe. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth go for livestock as well. If an animal mauls a neighbor’s animal, then the one farmer must give the other a replacement animal – and often more than that. For some farmers, losing an animal may mean losing an income.
The Bible also shows us that these poor farmers were expected to tithe their crops. They were expected to give the first ten percent of their crops as an offering to the Lord, returning thanks for how God had blessed them.
Then the church would use these foodstuffs to help feed the widows, the orphans, and the aliens, people who could not provide for themselves. These subsistence farmers who could barely survive on the food that they made gave ten percent of their crops to the church because they knew that there were always others who were poorer and hungrier than they.
That seems to be the problem with the rich farmer in this parable. He doesn’t consider who may be in more need than he. He doesn’t return thanks to God through prayer, sacrifice, or donation. This rich farmer’s first reaction is to build a bigger barn. This man wants to save his bumper crop until later when it may become more valuable. Yes, this rich farmer is a profitable man, but in being so he also is a selfish one.
This man is so conceited that he doesn’t even talk to anyone about it. He talks to himself. He says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” This may be the worst part. He is so confident in this one year’s crop that he thinks that he can retire early. Or at least he plans to take a long vacation. Yet, if I have learned anything about farming, it is that the work never ends. This man truly is a fool.
This man is so selfish that God directly reprimands him. God says to this rich farmer, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” In these few short words, God shows this rich man his folly. In the process of becoming a shrewd businessman, the rich farmer ruins the economy of those around him. Other people will suffer because this man decided to keep it all to himself.
Unlike other passages of scripture, this passage is NOT saying that you should sell everything and give it all to the poor. This passage is NOT saying that you should suffer so that others don’t have to. Luke IS saying that we should give thanks to God for all that God has blessed us. In addition to prayer and praise, giving thanks can look like tithing of your income, your work time, or your profit.
The problem with wealth is that it causes people to think that they are self-sufficient. The money and the success are not the issue at all. But when the money and the success stir the people to forget all those who helped them become successful, that is the problem. The rich man didn’t realize that he had a great crop because his forebears taught him how to farm. The weather must have been excellent that season. He had all of the tools that he needed to harvest the crop. Most of all, the rich farmer was successful because God blessed him so.
Yet this farmer neglected to thank the Lord. The rich farmer neglected to serve his neighbors. He only had himself in mind. We don’t have to make the same mistakes of this shrewd farmer. When we put the Lord at the center of our lives, everything will fall into place. Then we can see all that God has blessed us. Then we can return thanks for our blessings. And in returning thanks, we can make a difference among those who have not been as richly blessed.
So, next time that the wind blows in your direction and you smell a nearby farm, don’t think “Money!” or even “Stinky pigs!” Instead, think “God’s blessings!” and say a prayer of gratitude for that farm. Amen.