A man in a crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to give me my share of what our father left us when he died.”Jesus answered, “Who gave me the right to settle arguments between you and your brother?” Then he said to the crowd, “Don’t be greedy! Owning a lot of things won’t make your life safe.”
So Jesus told them this story: A rich man’s farm produced a big crop, and he said to himself, “What can I do? I don’t have a place large enough to store everything.” Later, he said, “Now I know what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I can store all my grain and other goods.Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have stored up enough good things to last for years to come. Live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.’” But God said to him, “You fool! Tonight you will die. Then who will get what you have stored up?”
“This is what happens to people who store up everything for themselves, but are poor in the sight of God.”
Lester by Shel Silverstein
Lester was given a magic wish
By the goblin who lives in the banyan tree,
And with his wish he wished for two more wishes—
So now instead of just one wish, he cleverly had three.
And with each one of these
He simply wished for three more wishes,
Which gave him three old wishes, plus nine new.
And with each of these twelve
He slyly wished for three more wishes.
Which added up to forty-six—or is it fifty-two?
Well anyway, he used each wish
To wish for wishes ‘til he had
Five billion, seven million, eighteen thousand thirty-four.
And then he spread them on the ground
And skipped and sang, and then sat down
And wished for more.
And more… And more… They multiplied
While other people smiled and cried
And loved and reached and touched and felt.
Lester sat amid his wealth
Stacked mountain-high like stacks of gold.
Sat and counted—and grew old.
And then one Thursday night they found him
Dead—with his wishes piled around him.
And they counted the lot and found that not
A single one was missing.
All shiny and new—here, take a few
And think of Lester as you do.
In a world of apples and kisses and shoes
He wasted his wishes on wishing.
When I was a little girl falling asleep in a new place, or just feeling especially spooked on a particular evening, I would crawl underneath my covers down to the bottom of the bed. Eventually I would fall asleep there. For some reason, I thought this would keep me safe. I thought these covers would protect me from whatever outside force was going to come to get me. And if they didn’t completely deflect the “bad guy” it would at least confuse them for a bit because they would have no idea where, under the covers, I actually was.
When I was a little older and my parents would be out for the night, my little brother and I would always go to sleep in their bed. Rather than crawl under the covers, I would ask him to hold my hand as we fell asleep. This way, I thought, if someone came to get me and try to pull me away, he’d feel my hand pull away from his, wake up, and (obviously) save me. I don’t know why I thought his waking up in the midst of this scary thing would save me, but I did and I was able to go to sleep that way.
I’m sure if you think about it, you can pull up your own stories from childhood, your own ideas of what could keep you safe. Maybe you had a special blanket or action figure that you carried with you everywhere you went. Maybe you have a special keychain or necklace that gives you a sense of safety. Whether young or old, we all have our ideas of safety. Though some may be a little more thought out than hiding under the covers, after some critical thinking, most of them probably wind up in the same zone with little to no guarantee of absolute safety.
Of course, as adults, we build safe holds into place. We do all we can to bolster the guarantee of safety, or at least, the feeling of safety. Why? Why do we need to feel safe? Our fears would tell us it’s because there’s so much we need to be kept safe from.
Is it possible that this is some of the drive behind our need to acquire more and more things? That there is something in the back of our mind that makes us think that these things will distance us from the fear, those things we need to be kept safe from? When we have money, we don’t need to fear hunger, homelessness, or illness. We can afford professionals and software programs who can keep watch over it all for us so we can go, like the man in the parable, live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy ourselves!
It’s interesting that our impulse to acquire safety not only distances us from our fears but from each other as well. Think of it, we have a natural reaction to physically pull away from those things we want to stay away from. Pull your hand away from the flame. Cross the road to get away from the person who looks a little strange…
So as the need for safety takes a hold of us, our priorities begin to shift, we begin to change how we think, how we react and respond to the world around us, how we see ourselves, and how we see each other. We change physically, as we pull into ourselves for protection. We change emotionally, as fear begins to lie at the heart of our every emotional response. We change mentally, as our… my safety… takes first place in every thought – what does this mean for me? How will this affect me? How will I get the most out of this? And we change spiritually, as we curve into ourselves, reflecting all of our life’s meaning, all final judgements, all hope and need and want, upon ourselves for ourselves.
When Jesus was asked by the man in the crowd to intervene in a familial dispute, he didn’t respond with personalized, helpful advice. Instead, Jesus went beyond the question to the underlying fear, the underlying need for safety that we can all relate to whether in the year 2016, 1944, or 100 BC. Jesus revealed the fear and addressed it using one of his favorite methods, parable. I’ve often wondered why Jesus uses parable to address such difficult topics so often and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because parable allows each of us to enter the question in just the way we need.
A farmer receives an unexpected abundance. What will the farmer do? How will the farmer reason this out? Will we, the listeners, agree with the choices this farmer makes? Why or why not? What do we do with our abundance? Do we contain and safeguard it? Do we waste it thoughtlessly? Or do we find another way? In this parable, we aren’t left with an answer. We aren’t left being told what to do, but we are left with a perspective that sheds light on the possibility of another way to be.
As Christians, we follow Jesus. That’s what we do! This means we follow the way of Jesus, not just his teachings, or how he lived, but the way he interacted with the world and people around him. In Jesus’ way we find an alternative to fear; an alternative life that is led by more than an unrelenting need for safety. Our way, is not a life left squabbling over inheritance due. Our way, Jesus’ way, is about a living, never-ending legacy of love.
Living a legacy of love gives us a different perspective. Rather than originating from the fearful need for personal safety, this perspective springs from a living hope in Jesus Christ. This hope frees us to live fully present in each moment. We are free to connect and respond to one another without being bogged down by suspicion. We are free from the ego’s cry for fairness to strive for equity and justice. When surprised by, or overwhelmed by, or when we simply find ourselves reflecting upon the abundance that surrounds us, fills our homes, or refrigerators, our bank accounts… we are free to see the opportunity that the man from today’s parable failed to see. We are free to celebrate our abundance with others.
Following the way of Jesus, this living legacy of love, is what sets us apart and makes us kind of… different, but we aren’t set apart to remain apart. We are set apart because of the ways we are called to connect, unite, and remain with one another. The way of Jesus leads us to face ourselves and each other, the good, the bad, and the ugly of us all. Rather than idolize, demonize, or shun, we are called to carry each other; to care for each other; hang in there together; and practice the ways of our faith together: forgiveness, grace, sharing, humility, celebration, praise, love… the list goes on and on! This is a faith of abundance!
It seems like you can’t go anywhere today without hearing about another awful, scary thing we need to be kept safe from. It seems like everywhere I turn lately, I’m hearing about how we are hurting, murdering, hating, and distancing ourselves from each other. In this time, when it feels all too natural to strive for safety and self-preservation, Jesus’ words and way is here to remind us and show us that our hope is in him. God’s love is the only certainty we have to hold onto. That love is our legacy to live for and with one another. Do not fear. Fight the fear by living generously and freely, every moment, every day, in the abundant love of Christ.