You can’t take it with you! No, this is not a Stewardship Drive campaign sermon,
but we could use today’s Gospel for it.
Many of us may have gone through the dividing up of property of a deceased loved
one—properties not included in a will. We may have seen how conflicts in the
family break out over who gets what. So, we might have some understanding of
what happened when Jesus was preaching justice and mercy to an ever-increasing
crowd when, somewhat randomly, a man steps out of the crowd and asks a
question about inheritance law.
But more than that, one brother asked that Jesus make the other brother share the
inheritance equally. Now, this is not as far-fetched as it may sound. The question
regarding inheritance was well-known in the Hebrew tradition. It was not improper
for a rabbi to render an opinion on the issue as an interpretation of the law. (1) But
1st -century Jewish law from Deuteronomy states that the firstborn son is entitled to
a double portion of his father’s estate. If my math is correct, that would mean the
older brother inherited two-thirds of the estate and the younger one-third.
Jesus saw right through the argument between the brothers and refused to enter the
family quarrel. Instead, he used the situation as an opportunity to teach about the seduction of wealth, saying, “be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not
consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus then told a parable to illustrate
what he had said. Some call this the parable of the rich fool.
The parable is a story of a farmer who has done things right, and affairs had gone
his way, so he had a bumper crop of grain. So huge was his harvest that he didn’t know how to deal with it. He decides to keep it all for himself, bringing down old barns and granaries to build even larger ones. From then on, he could hold every bit of his bumper crop to live a leisure life. Unfortunately, God appears to him, calling him a fool, for he will die that night
and can’t take his abundance with him. Jesus ends his story by saying, “So it is
with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
So, wait, storing up a bounty for oneself against leaner times is terrible? Building larger barns and granaries to store an unexpected abundance makes one a fool? After all, this is precisely what Joseph had Pharaoh do to prepare for the seven years of famine in Egypt.
What was so wrong with his actions? Nothing…..Except for two things. First,
notice the farmer’s constant focus throughout his conversation with 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....” (2) In our individualistic society, we might not think much of this, but the persistent use of the first-person pronouns “I” and “my” betray an obsession with self. There is no thought of expressing gratitude for his good fortune, no recognition of God,
from whom his bounty came, and the abundance to help others. He has succumbed
to the idolatry of greed.
The medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas said (I paraphrase)
“Greed is a sin directly against one’s neighbor, since one cannot over-abound in
external riches, without another lacking them... it is a sin against God, just as all
sins, since one treats with contempt things eternal for the sake of temporal things.”
Secondly, he is a fool because he believes that by his wealth, he can secure his
future: “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be
Saving for future material needs is one element of proper stewardship of God’s
bounty. But concern for the future must be balanced with the mandate to give glory
to God and care for one’s neighbor by providing for the poor and the marginalized,
those without access to the world’s wealth or even basic survival needs.
In Scripture, the word “fool” means someone who lives their life as if God did not
exist and did not create us for something more. Not only did the fool not realize
that he had placed his greed and wealth ahead of his relationship with God, but he
also neglected his calling to be a part of building the Kingdom of God.
It is implied in Jesus’ parable that the rich fool didn’t care for the least of his
neighbors by his desires and actions. He harvested all his bounty for himself, not allowing gleanings.
Gleaning has been an important form of social welfare for over 2,000 years.
Leviticus commanded Hebrew farmers to leave a portion of their crops un-
harvested and allow poor neighbors, refugees, and strangers to come onto their
land to pick what was left for themselves and their families. The Book of Ruth tells of gleaning by the widow Ruth to provide for herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi, who was also a widow. In England and France, the government protected the rights of the rural poor to glean leftover crops from nearby farms. Picking leftover crops for the local community was an essential part of farm life and the harvest process for hundreds of years until new private property laws and farming technology began to limit gleaners’ rights. It was common to see people out in fields picking leftover crops until after the end of World War II. (3)
The need today for another means of gleaning is great. Fifteen million U.S. households suffer from food insecurity – 11.8 percent of all U.S households. 5.8 million U.S. households suffer from severe food insecurity, which means the people who live in them are often hungry. 2.9 million families with children are food insecure at some time each year. A recent report estimated that as much as 40% of the food we produce is never eaten.
At the same time, 49 million people in the United States do not have enough
money to cover their basic food needs.
Today there are gleaning organizations across the country and over 20
organizations in California alone! White Pony Express in Pleasant Hill is our
local one. The Society of St. Andrew has been gleaning in the United States since 1983. And
has distributed food in every state except Alaska and Hawaii and has recovered
over 700 million pounds. Gleaning organizations today – predominantly faith-
based and non-profit organizations – recover food from farms, restaurants, grocery
stores, wholesale markets, Farmer’s Markets, and backyards. Much delivered to
local food banks. (4)
There are many ways that we can share our abundance by supporting the many
food recovery programs monetarily and by volunteering. Donating to and volunteering at Loves and Fishes, supplying school backpack supplies for our backpack drive, donating supplies to be distributed to the homeless by CORE, and providing food to stock our Deacon’s Pantry. But is there more we could do? Being blessed with a beautiful campus, could it be put to greater use to build up the Kingdom of Heaven and be rich toward God?
‘The Kingdom of Heaven is God’s sphere of created reality, which, as the Lord’s
Prayer suggests, will colonize ‘earth,’ our sphere. What matters is the Reign of God is bringing the values and priorities of God herself to bear on the greed and anxiety of the world. Those who welcome Jesus and his kingdom message must learn to abandon the latter and live by the former. As St. Francis said, “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received--only what you have given.” Amen.
(1) Sermon: An Embarrassment of Riches (Proper 13C).
(2) The Rich Fool - Brentwood Hills. https://brentwoodhills.org/wp-
(3) What Is Gleaning? Past, Present & Future - Food Forward.
(4) What Is Gleaning? Past, Present & Future - Food Forward.