In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney’s character lives a life committed to getting his ten million air miles. He sees relationships as insignificant compared with the prestige in having the silver card engraved ‘Ryan Bingham #7’. Yet when it is handed to him mid-flight by the captain, along with a public announcement and champagne, he realizes how meaningless it is.
On one occasion a man listening to Jesus, interjected: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (12:13). Despite the life and death matters Jesus had just been speaking about (12:4-12), this man’s thoughts were focused on an injustice that was gnawing away inside him. And Jesus responded without missing a beat: “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” he asked (12:14). It was hardly a warm response. But Jesus was aware that this man was obsessed with this issue. He needed to awaken him to larger issues in life.
‘Do you really believe that I am an arbiter and judge over you?’ is the implication of Jesus’ question. ‘If you do, then who do you think has given me this authority?’ Apparently the man had not thought about this. Furthermore, in tacitly acknowledging Jesus to be a prophet from God who could adjudicate in his affairs, he was inviting God to judge his own affairs as well. But he hadn’t thought about this either, hence Jesus’ telling words: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15).
To make his point he told a searching parable about a wealthy landowner who thought too much about himself (12:16-20). Using a string of first-person pronouns, Jesus painted a picture of the foolishness of accruing wealth. The rich man was consumed with ‘my crops, my grain, my barns, myself, my life, and my soul’. It was a picture of arrogant self-satisfaction.
The man had failed to understand that his life was ultimately not his own. ‘Tonight your life, your soul, will be demanded from you,’ Jesus concluded. Life is not ours to do with simply as we want. It is something for which we all have to give an account. This wealthy man thought only about himself. He didn’t give a passing thought to the second command about neighbor love (10:29ff), nor the first commandment about love for God.
“You fool!” God said. What a chilling verdict. To be obsessed with things is the ultimate foolishness, for none of us can speak with certainty about tomorrow let alone many years hence. Materialism offers neither real security nor true and lasting satisfaction.
Jesus had turned the question of a self-centered, thoughtless man into a provocative moment in his life. In contrast to laying up treasure for ourselves, Jesus tells us we should settle for nothing less than becoming rich in our relationship with God. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Jesus went on to say. God’s people who trust Jesus at his Word generously invest in God’s agenda – local church and outreach ministries, education, care for the needy and the outcast. The question is, ‘What about you?’
Note: This week’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my commentary, John G. Mason, Reading Luke Today: An Unexpected God, Aquila: 2012, p.176ff