This is an edited version of a Harvest Festival sermon on Luke 12v13-21 in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge.
‘Greed is good.’ That was the gospel according to Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street. He was supposed to be the villain of the piece but he became a cult figure for many young thrusting City traders and bankers when I was starting work as a business reporter in the late 1980s.
Sadly, of course, his moral legacy two decades later was a very unhappy one in the terrible banking crash of 2008. Greed didn’t sound so good then.
The Lord Jesus Christ taught the opposite of the non-gospel according to Gordon Gekko. Frequently in the Gospels, he exposed the terrible evil of greed and the damage it causes and in his parable of the rich food as recorded in Luke chapter 12 our Lord laid bare the godless arrogance that underlies human greed.
At this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is being followed in Galilee by very large crowds attracted by his miracles and by his astonishing teaching. A man in the crowd brings to Jesus a problem that is sadly common in every society – a family row over a will. ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me (v13, NIV).’ Jesus’s response is very striking, v14: ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’
Think about that response for a moment. The man asking that question – who made me a judge over you? – is the Son of God, the King of God’s eternal kingdom, Jesus Christ. One day both parties in that family row and indeed in every family row there’s ever been will appear before his judgement throne. By answering the man’s plea for intervention with a question, Jesus achieves two things.
First, he gets this man to think about who he is accountable to in life, and secondly he focuses his listeners on the priority of the kingdom of God. If Jesus had spent his time on earth sorting out financial disputes, rather than teaching the message of God’s kingdom and performing the signs of God’s kingdom, then we can safely say that we would have missed out on eternal salvation. Jesus rightly prioritised his time and energy on proclaiming the kingdom of God.
And his warning to the crowd in v15 following the man’s request is very relevant to life in the kingdom of God. Those who wish to live in the kingdom of God must be on their guard against all kinds of greed, for a person’s life – their true life in the kingdom of God – does not consist in the abundance of their possessions.
Then he told the crowd the parable of Mr Loadsamoney. Does anyone remember the Harry Enfield character from the 1980s? I remember being taken out for a meal by a loadsamoney character from the financial boom at that time. And he really was like that – in almost every pocket of his jacket he had wads of cash which he waved around at the waiters.
The man in Jesus’s story has so much cash in hand, or in his case crops, that he hasn’t got room for it all. Literally what the man says to himself in v19 is this: ‘I will say to my soul, Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’
He has a dialogue with his soul. And he is very pleased with the state of his soul. Why? Because he thinks his life consists in the abundance of his possessions.
But what does God think? What does the Supreme Being this man ultimately answers to and indeed all of us ultimately answer to think of the state of the soul of the person who thinks life is about stockpiling material wealth?
God says to him (v20), ‘You fool! This very night your life – your soul – will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
Not you. That’s for sure.
And then Jesus draws the lesson from the parable for those who wish to enter the kingdom of God and live in it – you do not enter the kingdom of God by being foolish like the loadsamoney in the parable: ‘This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.’ (v21)
What does it mean to be rich towards God? We can gain a very good idea of what that means from Jesus’s teaching immediately before and after this parable in Luke 12.
A person who is rich towards God is acutely conscious that one day they will answer to God for their words and deeds (Luke 12v1-3). A person who is rich toward God respects God more than anything or anybody else (v4-7). A person who is rich towards God is upfront about their faith in the King of God’s eternal kingdom, Jesus Christ, and is full of God’s Holy Spirit (v8-12). The person who is rich towards God is on their guard against all kinds of greed (our story, v13-22). And a person who is rich towards God does not fret about their material situation but seeks first God’s kingdom (v22-31).
The person who is rich towards God believes and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ and is living for him. That is to be rich towards God.