YOU’VE SEEN THE BUMPER STICKER: “The person with the most toys wins.” Wins what? The person with the most toys takes out of this life exactly what everyone else does. A billion years or so into eternity, how many toys we accumulated during our seventy years in this life will not seem too terribly important.
Yet in a materialistic culture, it is horrifying to begin to recognize just how endemic greed is, how it seeps into all kinds of priorities and relationships. In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus is confronted by someone who begs him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” We do not know whether this individual had a just complaint or not. From Jesus’ perspective, it did not matter, for a more fundamental issue was at stake. For this individual, a share of the inheritance was more important than a godly relationship with his brother. Not only does Jesus insist he did not come to be an arbiter of such minor matters (12:14), he warns, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15). Perhaps the person with the most toys does not win after all.
This precipitates the parable of the rich farmer whose rising stores of grain prompt him to build bigger and bigger barns (12:16-20). In our culture, we might easily substitute builder or software producer or real estate agent for farmer. In a culture that fixates on present possessions, it is distressingly easy for believers to get sucked into the same vortex of greed. What starts as an entirely proper commitment to do one’s best for Christ’s sake degenerates into a selfish competitiveness and a bottomless acquisitiveness. You busily plan your retirement; after all, you tell yourself, you have “plenty of good things laid up for many years” (12:19). Because everyone is telling you how well you are doing, you do not hear the voice of God: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (12:20).
The problem is not wealth itself. The Bible bears witness to some rich people who used their wealth for God, people who were not so attached to their wealth that it became a surrogate god. Yet one hesitates to point out this fact, for most of us are so good at deceiving ourselves we inevitably think this concession lets us off the hook. Others are greedy or miserly; I am hard working and frugal. Others are materialistic and hedonistic; I am realistic and believe that a merry heart does good like medicine. So meditate on Luke 12:21.