Bible Study 2.13.12, 2.16.12, 2.20.12 For Worship 2.26.12

Bible Study 2.13.12, 2.16.12, 2.19.12 For Worship 2.26.12

Luke 12:13-21

Luke 12:13  One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.”

14  But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?”

15  And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

16  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully;

17  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’

18  And 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.

19  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’

20  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

21  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

COMMENTARY

Luke is harder on the rich than any of the other gospel writers.  All of the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke include the rich young ruler story, where a rich man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus answers, keep the commandments.  When the rich man responds that he has kept the commandments, Jesus tells him to sell what he has, give to the poor and come follow Jesus.  In each version of the story the Rich man goes away sadly, because he had great possessions.  In all three versions of the story of the rich young man, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  Some of our current politicians would accuse Jesus of  “class warfare.”

The gospel of Luke goes even further in its condemnation of the rich.  In Luke’s version of the beatitudes Jesus says:  Luke 6:20 “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. . . .  24 “But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.”  And then Luke presents two Parables about rich people, that do not occur in any other Gospel – the Parable of the Rich Fool, Luke 12:13-21; and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus  Luke 16:19-31.

The Parable of the Rich Fool, our scripture today, is about the foolishness of accumulating wealth we cannot use.  The Parable is prefaced by a story intended to provide context.  Jesus is asked to play the role of judge in an inheritance dispute.  It was not uncommon in the First Century to seek a Rabbi’s intervention or judgment in a legal dispute.  Jesus begs off from the request by noting a concern about covetousness and the lure of worldly possessions. The point of the story then is to ask, “When we die, what’s the point?”  There are no pockets in a shroud.  There is no U-Haul following the hearse.  Of course some people will try to accumulate money and then leave it to their children, or to charitable organizations to support causes of which they approve.  People sometimes try to use money to immortalize themselves.  Using money to immortalize ourselves is a sad exercise of ego.  Leaving money to children does not guarantee their happiness.  Leaving money to charitable enterprises is probably a responsible way to dispose of assets after our death, but how much more fun it might have been to give or share those assets, while we are still alive.  We should all ask ourselves, accumulating for what?

The Rich man and Lazarus story has an edge to it.  What about people who accumulate wealth, and refuse to reach out to the needs of others?  In this story, the rich man suffers torment in Hades, while the poor beggar he refused to help is comforted in the bosom of Abraham. This Parable is based upon a Sheol.  Sheol is neither heaven or hell.  Sheol is instead a holding area for souls awaiting final judgment, but even in Sheol, temporary though it may be there is a division where different kinds of souls wait for final judgment.  Good people are invited to wait in Paradise or in the words of Luke the Bosom of Abraham, while bad souls are consigned to suffer in Gehenna, a place of fire and torment.  We should note that the time of waiting is for the Last Judgment when souls will receive permanent assignments.

The Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus is the only place in the gospels, where there is speculation about the geography of the afterlife, that has fueled the Roman Catholic doctrines about Purgatory.  I like the Parable of the Rich Fool better than the Rich man and Lazarus, because while there is an implied judgment about the accumulation of wealth in the Rich Fool the behavior itself is its own punishment or reward, rather than the imposition of a system of rewards and punishments in the afterlife to make up for injustices in this life.  We can hope that those who have more than they need will be inspired to share with those who do not.

LET’S ASK QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

1. What prompts Jesus to tell the story of the Rich Fool?

2. How does the rich man become wealthy?

3. What does the rich man see as his immediate challenge?

4. What does the rich man assume his abundance will afford him?

5. What is God’s response to the rich fool?

6. Does the story tell us how someone becomes rich toward God?

7. Does the story tell us what a person’s life does consist of?

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

1. Has there ever been a dispute involving an inheritance in your family?

2. How was the dispute resolved?

3. For you, how much is enough?

4. Has “enough” changed over your life time?

5. Do you have a plan for dispersing your assets, when you die?

6. What will be your most important legacy, when you die?

7. How do you think someone becomes rich toward God?

8. What do you think a person’s life consists of?

9. What do you think is the meaning of the Parable?

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