‘Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me 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 then 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 whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”‘ (Luke 12:13-21, NIV)
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left.’ (Matthew 25:31-33, NIV)
‘”Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”‘ (Matthew 25:46, NIV)
Richness Toward God
Whenever I think of the term richness, I picture the quality of a particular thing rather than the quantity of it. An apt comparison would be the quality of a glass of fine wine against a gallon cheap port. Unless one was a hopeless alcoholic, the sipping of the first would be greatly preferable to the guzzling of the latter. History reveals that at the end of the U.S. Civil War, wheel barrels filled with Confederate currency were worthless for obtaining goods; yet anyone holding even a small quantity of gold possessed something of worth.
In the telling of the parable of the rich fool in the gospel of Luke, Jesus gave a stern warning against substituting the quality of one’s spiritual worth with quantities of temporal, earthly possessions. As the story was told, the rich man was busy hoarding personal wealth while making plans for his own comfort. Jesus gave an insider’s look (God’s-eye-view) into the rich man’s motives. In the account, the rich man seemed greatly distracted and self-absorbed in his own success. Nowhere was the rich man heard crediting God for his abundant blessings of the harvest. Instead, he was heard congratulating himself on how well he had done in his efforts. And all the while, the rich man had not included God in any of his personal plans. The story ends poorly for the rich man who died before he could enjoy the fruits of his labor. In summary, Jesus declared the fate of the rich man, in death, would be the same for all who had not been rich toward God in life.
Yes, you cannot take “it” with you as the expression goes. (“It” being the quantities of stuff one collects during a lifetime.) Our mortality makes that point abundantly clear. Yet Jesus offered the parable in response to a request that he settle a dispute over an inheritance between two brothers. His response to the request was offered in two parts: The response to the request, then the parable itself.
First, Jesus asked the man making the request a very interesting question. “Man, who appointed me judge or an arbiter between you?” (Luke 12:14, NIV) In the context of this account, Jesus had been addressing a very large crowd of people. He told the listeners that whomever acknowledged him publicly would be rewarded with a favorable report before God; but those who were ashamed to tell others about Jesus would be disowned by Jesus before God. In other words, Jesus distinguished the spiritual winners and losers in eternity by those who acknowledged him and those who shunned him.
I cannot help but wonder at the request of the man asking Jesus to force his brother to cough up a portion of the inheritance. For if Jesus were merely a wandering teacher, such a request would look foolish and futile. Only someone in authority to judge could make such a determination. Thus, if the man making the request was in earnest regarding the inheritance, then perhaps he believed Jesus was someone with the authority to pass judgment. It is not without irony that Jesus turned the question upon the matter of judgment. For as the Scriptures reveal, the Chosen One of God will indeed judge the nations and rule in righteousness one day (Daniel 7:13-14, and Revelation 12:5, NIV)
Secondly, the point of the parable was not offered to vilify the acquisition or possession of wealth. Rather, it distinguishes the difference between a generous giver (God) and an ingrate (the rich man.) For according to Scripture, human beings are created in the image of God, and what God desires to see in that reflection of Himself are the very qualities of his divine nature: thoughtfulness, generosity, caring, and compassion for and toward others. Just as God cares for us in love, humans are called to do the same for one another. Hence, when Jesus returns, he will come as the Judge of all mankind separating the winners (sheep) from the losers (goats.)
Richness toward God is doing for others as God has done for us. There are ample opportunities in the world today for believers to reflect the love of God, the image of God, to others by clothing and feeding those in need, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison. Those were three examples of the richness toward God offered by Jesus himself.
So where will you stand in eternity? Jesus will decide in the future based upon how you treat others now. The choice is yours.
There is still time to act as God allows. I pray someday you will be counted among the sheep.
(copyright 2011, Gregory Allen Doyle)