Jesus and the Rich
Luke 12:16-21, Matthew 6:24
Rev. Sandy Johnson
November 5, 2017
“There was a very rich man who was just about to die, and he wanted to take some of his wealth with him. So, he started negotiations with God about the matter. God was sure it hadn’t been done before and he really did not want to set a precedence. Finally, after long negotiation, God reluctantly agreed to allow him to bring his wealth to heaven.
Just a few days before he died, the rich man converted all his money into gold bullion. After he died, the funeral home made sure that the suitcases containing the gold bullion went with him. When he arrived at the Pearly Gates with his suitcases, there stood St. Peter. St. Peter told him he could not bring the suitcases into heaven. But the man said he had already spoken to God and he had said it was OK. So, Peter got on the God phone and sure enough it was true. Now, Peter was curious as to what was so valuable that the man wanted to bring it into heaven. Peter said, “Could I look in the suitcases?” The man opened the suitcases and Peter exclaimed, “What? You brought pavement to heaven??!!”
Let us pray: Gracious Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Our topic this morning is Jesus and the rich. Perhaps we should begin by defining “rich?” Merriam Webster says that rich is “having abundant possessions, especially material wealth.”
Who defines abundant? What is abundant possessions? From a world perspective, we are all rich, even the most economically challenged among us would be considered rich by global standards. The average worldwide income is $9,733 per year. In the United States the average wage for fulltime workers is $44,148 per year.
No matter where you are in the socioeconomic spectrum, there are people who are above and people who are below you. To some, you are poor, to others you are wealthy. Last week I pointed out that Jesus had a lot to say about wealth. It was a topic he spent a good amount of time teaching about and demonstrating as he modeled how to manage resources as he lived and traveled with his disciples. We know it was important to Him and important for us to spend time learning about money as well.
Jesus may not care specifically about wealth, or his people being wealthy, but he does care how we manage the resources he has entrusted to us. Last week we learned the difference between being owners and stewards and have come (I hope) to embrace our role as stewards. The bottom line is that we do need money, or at least the things that money can buy. We need money to pay our mortgage or rent to keep a roof over our head. We need money to buy groceries to eat and to go to the department store to buy clothes. We use money for transportation, recreation, investments, philanthropy and education. Money is a tool that comes in very handy. Although money doesn’t buy happiness, it does buy choices.
The question that tugs at my heart and purse strings, is how much is enough and what am I to do with the rest? Are we ever content with enough? I would argue that becoming content with what we have can be the real challenge.
Let’s look at some examples of how Jesus interacted with the rich folks of his day. I turn first to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22 who was told by Jesus that to have eternal life, for him to be perfect, he must sell everything, give the money to the poor, follow Jesus and then he will have treasure in heaven. The rich man went away, grieved, unable to follow Jesus because he was tied so fiercely to his possessions.
Next let’s look at Jesus’ response to a large gift he received from Mary, as she anointed his feet in John 12:1-8. Mary had an exorbitant amount of expensive perfume and ointment. It was worth a full year’s wage – $44,000.00 in today’s cash. When Jesus was criticized for receiving such an expensive gift, he said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
“Job, the most God-like man on earth, was also the wealthiest (Job 1:3). Abraham prospered with land and cattle (Gen. 13:2). Solomon asked God for wisdom and got wisdom and great wealth (2 Chron. 1:11–12). Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both influential and moneyed men, secured a burial site for Jesus (John 19:38–42). Never once does Scripture condemn these and others for being rich. In fact, Scripture seems to say that “living large” is a feature of God’s world untarnished by sin and corruption. History started in an extravagant paradise, and will end in an extravagant city with many mansions, precious gems everywhere, and streets paved with gold.” Being rich is not the problem. It is the love of money that traps us, that distracts us from God and our call to ministry, our call to share our gifts and talents with our community.
In our lesson this morning, Jesus tells the parable about another rich man who has the great problem of producing a huge abundance. He had a banner year! He solves the problem by tearing down his barns and building bigger and better warehouses to store his great wealth. Thinking he is now secure, he is shocked to realize that this wealth is not what will save him. He has wasted his life, building up for himself treasures on this earth, rather than treasures in heaven.
This rich man never saw beyond himself, nor beyond this world. He is so focused on himself he doesn’t even think that perhaps instead of building larger barns, he should give some of his wealth away. Instead he is singularly self-centered and focused on achieving happiness by keeping what he has produced to himself. Our founder, “John Wesley’s rule of life was to save all he could and give all he could.” Throughout his life he increasingly gave more and more, continuing to live on the meager salary he earned when he was first starting out. Warren Buffet is America’s most charitable billionaire. It is estimated that he has given away more than $46 billion since 2000, approximately 71% of his $65.5 billion fortune.” I suspect he can’t give it away fast enough.
But this rich man in our scripture, never saw beyond this world. He was so focused on building wealth that he did not consider what would really matter in his next life, in his eternity with Jesus. In the verses following our scripture today, Jesus tells his audience (and us) that we are not to worry about our life, those things that we eat, drink or where we will live. Jesus instructs us to, “Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
Strive first for God’s kingdom. Could it be that is the key to Godly riches? What does it mean to “strive first for God’s kingdom?” It means that everything we do, we do to obey God and that we spend our life doing what God tells us – to love Jesus and love one another. We are to work for the things that will last forever, not just until the day we breath our last. “If we cloth our soul with the garments of honor and purity and goodness, nothing on earth can injure us. When we seek the treasures of heaven, our hearts will be fixed on heaven.” If we focus on the treasures of this earth, we will miss the point of Jesus teachings.
Money can be dangerous and disrupt our striving for God’s kingdom. It is true that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” Mark 10:21 tells us that no one can serve two masters. We cannot serve both God and money. It’s like trying to chase two rabbits, you won’t be able to catch both. “Scripture never says having wealth is wrong; craving and serving wealth is the problem. It never says money is a root of all kinds of evil; the love money is.”
I go back to the question I asked at the beginning of the message. How much is enough? What do I need to be content and how do I get there? How can I protect myself from wanting more, from thinking that somehow, I deserve more things, when there are people around me in crisis? How do we find contentment with God alone and give up our love affair with the almighty dollar?
In my research and studying this week, I saw a mention of a woman who had traveled to the far reaches of Africa. Here were people living on hardly anything. By our western standards they were the poorest of the poor. But these people were more joyful and at peace than people in our country that live on far greater resources. I believe that Jesus loves rich people, not because they have somehow earned it, that they somehow deserve this great wealth; Jesus loves rich people because what the rich folks can do with their money, for God’s kingdom.
Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he (Jesus) has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Jesus has our back. Jesus loves us and asks us to strive first for His kingdom, not one of our own making. When we accept the partnership that Jesus is offering us, to be in relationship with Jesus, in discipling and loving our neighbors, that’s when the real ministry happens. When we decide which master we will serve, and choose to serve Christ alone, it is then that we are freed for joyful obedience and all our needs are taken care of.
Let us pray: Holy God, we thank you for the resources you have entrusted us with. Help us discern how we can best use the money you have given to us, to bring love, peace, justice and mercy to our community. We are your servants, stewards of yours. Guide us, we are listening. Amen.
 John 12:7-8
 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke, Revised Edition. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1975. Page 164
 Luke 12:31
 Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Luke, Revised Edition. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1975. Page 166.