Dr. Steve Lindsley
(Luke 12: 13-21)

My colleague Chris Henry, pastor of Second Presbyterian in Indianapolis, tells the story of a men’s church group that gathered monthly for breakfast and Bible study. For the past few months they’d been reading the parables of Jesus in the gospel of Luke; and on this day they were studying the story I just read to you, what frequently goes by the name of “the parable of the rich fool.” After they finished, there was a long period of silence that followed that seemed to go on for an eternity. No one sipped their coffee, no one lifted a bagel. Most stared at the table in front of them.

Finally, one of the men piped up. “You know”, he said, “the teachings of Jesus are just so hard to understand. I mean, these stories and parables that he told. How are we to understand what he meant?” Again, there was silence in the room until finally another man, the oldest in the group, spoke up. “Bill,” he said, “you know that’s not true. The teachings of Jesus are not hard to understand. They are hard to follow.”

I don’t think a truer statement could be said about our passage today. The parable that Jesus tells comes out of a request that is made of him. Just about all of Jesus’ parables originate from something that is said, something that is asked, something that happens. They do not magically appear in a vacuum. This is not “story time with Jesus.”

The request that is made comes from a man in the crowd: Jesus, the man says, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me. Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.

In my office down the hall I have a small assortment of Jesus collectibles – little knick-knacks that have been given to me over the years. There’s the “walking on water” Jesus with wheels on the bottom. There’s the keychain Jesus that doubles as a flashlight. There’s a dancing Jesus that jiggles like a bobble head when you shake it.

My favorite of them all is the “Answer Me Jesus.” Think of it as a Magic 8 ball – the kind that you shake and answers your yes/no questions – but in the form of a ten-inch tall pink Jesus. So, you have a yes/no question you want to ask Jesus. You ask it, then turn Jesus upside-down to find the small plastic hexagon in blue liquid, one side of which will be facing up – and on it you find your answer. It may be “Hallelujah!” Or “I forgive you” or “I still love you” or “Wait for a sign” or “Let me ask my dad.”

My favorite answer of them all, though, is “I died for this?!”

Now Jesus, of course, was very much alive at this point in our story, but I feel a similar kind of vibe from him in his response to the gentleman’s request to intervene in his personal family matters. It’s about as snarky a response as you’ll ever see Jesus give: Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business to be a judge or mediator for you? I’m gonna die for this?!

And it wasn’t just the request that irks Jesus. Because Jesus knows something that the man making the request certainly knows and that you and I probably don’t know – that, according to Judaic inheritance practices of the time, an older brother would receive two-thirds of the family inheritance while the younger brother would get just a third. Not the even split that the guy’s asking for here. Which, as a side note, we can probably assume that this guy is the younger brother, can we not?

See, it’s not just the request to intervene in family matters that bugs Jesus. It’s that this guy wants a 50-50 split of the inheritance which, by law, is more than he’s entitled to. More than is his to ask for.

And that is why Jesus tells his parable. A parable of a man whose land produced abundantly. Note the very specific language used here: the land produced abundantly. Not the man. Hold on to that thought for later.

The land produced abundantly – so much, in fact, that he doesn’t have enough room in his barns to store it all. He’s got a problem – a nice problem, but a problem. What’s he going to do?

We get a peek into this man’s thinking with a first person soliloquy:

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.

Now I want to read that again, except this time I want us to count the number of times that we hear the words “I,” “me” or “my.” Ready?

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.

Eight times in a single verse: I, me, my. It’s all about him.

So, let’s recap, shall we: this man in the parable Jesus tells has a huge harvest to reckon with – a harvest, once again, that he did not produce, but the land produced – and his solution to address the abundance and storage issue he faces is to tear down the existing barns and build news ones big enough to store the harvest in full.

The teachings of Jesus are not hard to understand. They are hard to follow.

I mean, we see this mentality all around us, do we not? The mentality of scarcity, of not having enough, of always needing more. It is a powerful mentality and pervades every aspect of our lives, including the church. It is also simply not true. It is a lie. It’s a myth. As one noted preacher explains:

The myth of scarcity insists that there is never enough (for ourselves), let alone (for) another. The myth of scarcity says that there is not enough food for all in the world to be fed, that we must fight and destroy in order to protect what is ours, that it is not our job to take care of others…and if you do not buy in then you will be left out. The myth of scarcity has even invaded American churches, warning us that we have to hold on tightly to our salvation and to our God because if just anyone can be saved or worship God then there won’t be enough to go around.

It’s so weird, isn’t it? On one level I totally get the logic that says, Man, I’ve got a lot of stuff, more than I have room to store. What should I do? I got it – let’s find more storage! Actually, scratch that – let’s tear down the storage space I already have so I can build bigger storage space.” I get the logic. I’m a product of this myth as much as anyone.

But on another level, a level I get to when I quiet the noise in my head and thinking straight, on another level I catch myself: Ok, hold on. Wait a minute. It makes no sense to just store this stuff for some time later. If it’s a harvest, it’s going to spoil eventually. If it’s stuff, I will literally forget I even have it the minute I shut that storage door. It makes no sense to store it. And it makes even less sense to tear down the storage I already have and build bigger storage for this stuff that’s going to spoil, this stuff I’m going to forget I even have.

On top of the fact that this stuff isn’t really my stuff. I didn’t produce the harvest – the land did. I may have acquired a few items over the years, but the truth of things, if I take the gospel of Jesus seriously, is that none of it is really “mine.” Everything I have one way or another is a gift from God. Everything in my possession is on loan to me from God.

It would be nice if the man in Jesus’ parable came to that realization. If he were able in that moment to let go of the myth of scarcity that had him in its clutches. But he doesn’t. And for that, he is called by God a fool. A harsh indictment, to be sure. And why is that, we wonder? What is it exactly that makes this man a fool?

Was it his greed? Perhaps. Jesus mentions it specifically in the lead-in to his parable. Greed makes fools of a lot of people. Years ago a newspaper reporter one asked John D. Rockefeller, at the time one of the wealthiest men in the world, “How much money is enough? Rockefeller smiled and chuckled a little, and said, “Just a little more.”

The parable of the rich fool has long stood as a warning against greed, and clearly this is one takeaway. But I’m not sure it’s the only one. In fact, friends, the more I think about it, the more I realize that greed is not what makes this man a fool in God’s eyes.

Go back to that soliloquy, that peek into the mind of our friend. All those I’s, me’s, my’s. Language is telling. Here, it tells us that this man is speaking exclusively to himself. He is his one and only audience. It is not just that greed has taken over, that he’s gone all-in on the myth of scarcity. It’s that he has literally lost the capacity to see other human beings. He has lost the capacity to see other human beings. That is what makes him a fool in God’s eyes.

The teachings of Jesus are not hard to understand. They are hard to follow. The myth of scarcity is a myth we are surrounded by at every turn. And it is hard, so hard to let go of it; especially when the harvest we’ve been given is a bountiful one, especially when we have lots and lots of stuff, especially when our barns aren’t big enough to store it all, especially when the ones we build in their place are so big that the structures themselves, and the contents within them, literally obstruct our view and keep us from seeing what God wants us to see. Or, more to the point, who God wants us to see.

And that, beloved, is why great and wonderful things happen when we choose to rise above the myth of scarcity and see who God wants us to see.

In his book “We Aren’t Broke” – a book that challenges churches to rid themselves of the myth of scarcity and start seeing the vast abundance God has placed in their midst – author Mark Elsdon shares a story told by noted author and speaker Shane Claiborne, who once spent time with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. One of his regular duties was helping the sisters prepare a meal for some of the children there – children whose lives were wrecked by excruciating poverty. One day Shane learned that one of the regular children in the group had a birthday. Wanting to do something special for the birthday boy, he snuck out and bought an ice cream cone – something the boy had likely rarely tasted before, if ever.

At some point during the dinner, Shane pulled the boy aside and gave him the ice cream cone. He whispered in his ear, “Happy birthday, kid. Now let’s keep this quiet because I don’t have enough for everybody else.” I don’t have enough for everyone else. That’s the myth of scarcity, right?

Turns out the boy had different plans. Turning to the rest of the group, he yelled out, “Hey everyone! Everyone, look! We have ice cream! We have ice cream!”

The ensuing stampede both shocked and horrified Shane and had him running for cover, wanting to avoid what he felt for certain would be a sea of disappointed faces. The myth of scarcity.

The boy then said, “Now listen, everyone, we have only one cone. So we all get one lick.”

The kids formed a line, at which point the birthday boy proceeded to share his cone with everyone else, one lick at time, and letting his own lick be the very last.

The teachings of Jesus are not hard to understand. They are hard to follow. God, grant us the fortitude to get out from under the myth of scarcity. It is no fun being defined by that which we can lose. May we forever see the abundance all around us, and share that abundance openly and with gratitude. For when we do that, when we share the abundance God has given, we see who God wants us to see. May we never lose sight of that.

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!


[1] From “Myths of Scarcity” by Chris Henry.

[2] Mark Elsdon, We Aren’t Broke, pg. 45-46.

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.