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?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘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?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ (NRSV).
Jesus had the knack of moving swiftly to the heart of a matter.
Although our gospel reading opens with a man seeking justice Jesus, skillfully and completely, avoids any arbitration. It is time for the family inheritance to be distributed. One brother wants his share. The other is holding on.
Or so it would seem.
Perhaps we do well to tread cautiously in places even the Messiah avoided. There is only one brother here. Even Jesus is refusing to enter this minefield of family law.
But he is prepared to speak to the core of this case: ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’
I think I understand why Jesus moves straight into a parable from here. Stories – especially the ones Jesus told – draw us in before we know where they are headed. As a result the twist is heard while our guard is down. There would have been significant resistance if Jesus had simply started with: ‘You fool!’
But this is exactly where Jesus is headed. He seeks to lead to these confronting words. But it will take the meandering path of a story before this angry brother hears them. After all, Jesus, the embodiment of God, is, ultimately, not content to be right. He is more concerned to to communicate.
And so we have a story.
It begins with a man who has been blessed. The land God made has produced a bumper crop. Storage has become a real issue. His solution to is good problem is to dismantle his current barns and build mega grain houses.
But this farmer goes a step beyond large warehouses. In his abundance he is able to convince his ‘soul’ that all will be well ‘for many years’. It is time to rest these blessed feet.
But God is about to turn this artificial certainty into a real and confronting uncertainty. God’s unused blessings will be handed over. This safe and predictable life will be ‘demanded’.
And so Jesus suggests that it is like this among those who ‘store up treasures but are not rich towards God’.
Is it any wonder Jesus moves from here into a conversation about worry? Yes, Jesus will go even closer to the heart of our propensity to gather. He will point to birds and flowers and ask his followers to see the exemplary faith of these who ‘neither sow nor reap’ , ‘toil nor spin’, and ‘have neither storehouse nor barn’.
Luke leaves us to wonder at the response of this justice-seeking brother. Perhaps his myriad of possible reactions and choices are as much ours as they are his.