For many of us, the parables of Jesus are something like a nice blanket on a cool evening: it is something warm and comforting. We’ve read them, we’ve analyzed them, and we’ve placed ourselves in one of the more favorable outcomes. Take, for instance, the parable of the four soils. The worst soil, that along the path, is one where the word of God doesn’t take root. Since you’re at church, this obviously can’t be you, right? So you’re not the worst kind of person out there. The second soil, the rocky ground, springs up quickly but lacks depth and quickly dies. But since you’ve been to church for like, four weeks in a row and several times over the last couple of years, you think you’ve proven your longevity in faith. The third soil Jesus tells us about, that with thorns, can last a long time before it dies and gets choked out. This may be you, but at worst your a worry-wart Christian…right? And since 90 percent of us have come to church faithfully for years and volunteered for numerous projects, this obviously means that we are the prototype Christian, aren’t we? We can go home, feeling accomplished because we can convince ourselves that just like Jesus used four soils, he could have used four people and we would have been the example of the upstanding Christian.
We could have also used the parable of the Good Samaritan. We aren’t the religious person that doesn’t do anything, or the priest that walks by, therefore the only category that we would rightly give ourselves is that of the Good Samaritan. We have somehow always become the hero of the story.
The parables of Jesus are often like that warm blanket on a cool evening. We’ve read them, analyzed them, and put ourselves into a category, and often a favorable one. But when we do this, we not only lose the power that the passage has, but assign categories that I don’t think Jesus may have envisioned. Many well intentioned Bible teachers and preachers created the categories to try and simply things. Make it fit into four points so it can be delivered in thirty minutes or less.
But there are better images for the parables of Jesus than the warm fuzzy blanket. I’ll give you two, and let you keep one as we journey through the parable this week. The first is an exercise machine. If the parables of Jesus are a like a treadmill for our souls, than we must do more than just stare at the machine, we must actually get on it let it exercise us. You can’t just stare at the treadmill and think about running and have it count as exercise. You actually need to get on. Similarly, you can’t just read and assign yourself to some category in the parables, you need to let it work into your mind, heart, and soul, letting God transform even the deepest most portions of you life. So if you are feeling spiritually unfit, perhaps this metaphor is for you.
But the second image that you may want to use is that of the surgeons scalpel. Like the finest of master surgeons, God wants to cut away the excess in our lives, the fat and scar tissue, the damage and unhealthiness, the debris that has built up in our souls over a lifetime of sinful pollution. These parables are meant to cut to the deep areas of our life, not to bring pain (though pain may be involved) but to bring healing, health, and recovery.
The parables are not comfortable, they are confronting. They may not always be nice, but they are always necessary.
[/pullquote]So I will give you just a few seconds to pick the metaphor that you want to use today as we go through today’s parable. Do you feel God calling you to workout? Then get onto the treadmill. Does God need to do deep surgery to fix something really wrong that you have been neglecting? Than ready yourself for the Master Surgeon to cut and penetrate your heart. What you can’t, what none of us can rightly do, is keep the idea of the parable as a blanket. These are not comfortable, they are confronting, they may not always be nice but they are always necessary.
If you’re ready, turn with me to Luke chapter 12:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
If we treat this parable as a blanket, we assign it some pretty easy categories. I’ve heard sermons like this, haven’t you?
Jesus here warns us the evils and perils of money. Namely, don’t get too much of it. Now, if you’re a Christian that does happen to have a lot of money, God has clearly blessed you as something special. And since he’s done that, well, then you don’t have to take his command to give your money away. Now, the idea to not idolize money applies only to those who don’t have it. Jesus wants you to stop wanting it. If you’re rich, congrats, God has shown you favor. Just be sure you’re giving ten percent, or, if you’re up for a position like an elder, tithe a few extra bucks every now and then so people can see you’re super spiritual and therefore fit to lead them. So, to recap my sermon: if you’re poor, stop wanting money; if you’re rich be thankful that God loves you and give the church money.
Now, you laugh, but I’m guessing you’ve heard sermons like this before on this passage. It’s a common way to preach this passage.
But the Gospel for us, and in particular the parables of Jesus, cannot be a warm fuzzy blanket, they cannot always just tell us to keep doing the right thing. If that were true, we wouldn’t need Jesus. The fact that he came shows us that sometimes we need to do something differently.
No, I’m not sure Jesus ever meant this passage to serve as a warning about the evils of money. Or, if he did, it is not the example but an example. Jesus doesn’t say, “protect against the greed of money” but instead “guard your heart against all kinds of evil.”
Meaning there’s more.
More than money. More than finances. More than our paycheck.
No, there’s much more than that, isn’t there. Because as you can already feel, you’re greedy for something.
Because greed is simply “wanting more”. That’s what greed means.
Is it, popularity? You were never the cool kid but always wanted to be.
Is it, acceptance? You just want to belong.
Is it, your neighbors car, girlfriend, or exotic lifestyle? It’s jealousy, but it’s wanting more than what you have.
Yes, when we talk about ‘wanting more’ we realize that this passage applies to us too, maybe this passage isn’t a nice warm blanket.
What do you want more of? Can you name it, define it?
Do you want more health?
Do you want more titles, leadership capacity, or responsibility?
When we talk about wanting more, and not about pursuing money, we realize that Jesus is still talking to us.
But wanting things isn’t bad, is it?
What’s wrong with wanting to be healthy, have enough money to get by, or have friends and family that support us?
As we move towards, the answer, we must look at Jesus warning: “Be on your guard.” The book of Proverbs tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do comes from it.”
Above all else, guard your heart. Protect and defend it. Treat it with the upmost respect.
The warning given to the Kings of Israel thousands of years ago, was the same warning Jesus gave his listeners, and us.
One thing matters: protect the heart. Guard it. Put yourself on notice that there are things in this world that want to capture your attention, vie for your allegiance, and have mastery over you.
Like money. That’s the example Jesus uses.
But as we’ve already seen, that’s not the only type of greed, so if you don’t struggle with money, you can’t excuse yourself. The parables are not a warm, fuzzy blanket.
Put yourself on notice that there are things in this world that want to capture your attention, vie for your allegiance, and have mastery over you.
[/pullquote]So maybe for you it isn’t money. Maybe it’s value, acceptance, self-worth, the promotion that someone else got that you wanted and deserved. Better healthcare, nicer neighbors, a greener lawn, or more physical ability (how cool I would be if only I could dunk a basketball).
So what’s wrong with wanting more?
Well, it all comes down to priorities. What’s your motive for wanting more?
Why do you want more money? So you can buy a few more things, live comfortably, and participate in the “American Dream”? Be sure to guard your heart, the more you desire this, the less you will desire God.
Will the promotion make you feel more valuable and worthwhile? Jesus warning is for you to be on your guard. The more you desire that, the less room you have for God to give you validation and acceptance.
Why do you want the title, or responsibility, or a leadership position? So people will listen to you and respect you? Positional respect is cheap and shallow. The more you desire that, the less you will want to experience God’s role in shaping your life.
By now, my prayer is that you feel your time on the parable treadmill, or the gentle cutting of God’s scalpel. But remember, the end goal is never pain for pain’s sake but to promote health.
Needing or having these things are not bad. Enjoying them isn’t sinful or wrong, as long as we have our right priorities.
Pursue God first, above all else, and the rest will take care of itself. When you are concerned for yourself, you show that you don’t desire God’s care and concern for you. That is the last line of the parable: “This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
The more you desire this stuff, the less you need of God.
One person (N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone) put it this way, “What matters is that the kingdom of God is bringing the values and priorities of God himself to bear on the greed and anxiety of the world.”
So this passage is about our anxiety, our fear, and our worry. That’s what God wants to get out of us. That’s what our time on the treadmill or under the scalpel can remove from us: our needless worry, fear, anxiety, and dread. At home with God, these things are taken care of. You don’t have to worry about having your own back, God does that. So be rich, be generous, and be lavish with what you have, God will see you through.
Maybe you have money. Don’t store up more, live on enough and give the rest away. Maybe you have great leadership skills, then steward others closer to God. Maybe you don’t have a new car, but you have a car, shouldn’t that be good enough if you have God?
The things of the world aren’t bad, as long as we keep our priorities straight. Guard your heart against them because the more you allow them to rule your life, the less room you will have for God.