Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fools and their Money (Luke 12:13-21)

The old saying is that a fool and his money are soon parted, meaning that people who make foolish decisions about most things will also make foolish decisions about money. I always wonder about that saying, since it seems like someone who would make such foolish decisions wouldn't have any money to start with. Also, it seems like plenty of rich people do dumb things but are still rich.

Either way, the interesting thing about that old saying when we compare it to this story is that the man in it actually makes kind of a smart decision about his wealth. He makes plans to store his abundance of crops, rather than blow all of it on the first-century Judean equivalent of a Corvette, hair plugs and 25-year-old trophy wife. We call this kind of thing "savings," and it's generally recommended in the case of rainy days. Or very hot ones, so we can pay our electric bill.

But when God speaks to him, we learn he hasn't been wise at all! He's just as much a fool as the fellow down the road anticipating the invention of automobiles and plastic surgery! How can this be? Does God really mean to tell us that saving is not as smart a thing to do as spending? Does Jesus want his listeners to believe that they should drift along with whatever happens instead of planning for the future and whatever problems it might bring?

Well no, I don't think so. When we examine the story and compare it to the conversation Jesus has just before he tells it, we can see another kind of decision operating here that doesn't have as much to do with saving vs. spending as it does with a special kind of investing.

The rich man was wise to store up his excess. But he was foolish to think that his wealth was what really mattered. What did he say after he decided to make his new storage spaces? "Hey, you've got all you need! Take it easy! Life is good!" He invested the meaning of his life in his possessions. Because he had much, he was in good shape and had a good life.

God's message to him reminds him that the things of this life don't give life meaning. Because whether it happens tonight, tomorrow or twenty years from now, this life will end. If we have dedicated it to amassing, storing up and enjoying the things that are in it, then we will have gained nothing, and neither will the world we leave.

There have been countless rich people in the world since money was invented, but the ones we remember are the ones who did something with that wealth for the world around them. Maybe they did it because their wealth comes from the old "ill-gotten gains" and this is the way they ease their consciences. Maybe they did it because they selfishly wanted their names remembered after they were gone and having that name chiseled in stone on a building meant that someone, somewhere, would always know it. Or maybe they did it because they saw their resources as gifts from God which could be used to help make things better for others. Either way, they realized that their wealth -- and the world that contained it -- was not the only thing that mattered in life.

The rich fool didn't understand that. He invested in himself and so when he was gone, all that investment lost its meaning. Jesus said that people who follow him should invest themselves in something larger than their own desires and their own benefit. They should invest themselves in God and try to mold themselves to God's work in the world, or "be rich towards God," as he phrases it.

John Wesley told his followers they should work hard and gain all they could through their work. They should also save all they could. But they should do it in order to increase their ability to offer up the resources God's work in this world needs. So win the lottery. Be the beneficiary of that rich uncle. Work the overtime. Play the market, or whatever it is that you do in order to increase the resources you have here in this life, as long as you do it honestly.

Just don't make the mistake of thinking that it'll matter when you have to leave, and don't make the mistake of ignoring the one relationship that can make everything matter, both now and in the life to come -- the relationship between you and God, made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. Don't allow your life to be like the rich man in the story, to become one that people will remember for just a little while, and then mostly for its meaninglessness, saying after you're gone, "I pity the fool."

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