Unit: Luke (Part 2)
Theme: Jesus the Storyteller
Lesson Text: Luke 12:13-34
Supplemental Text: Matthew 6:19-21, 24
Aim: Serve God by valuing the eternal things he values.
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_May8_2022.
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By Mark Scott
The title of the lesson is an oxymoron. How can a rich man be poor? Of course, we know there is more than one way to be poor. One way is through what I call “affluenza” . . . for the “flu” of material possessions can afflict rich or poor.
Jesus delivered the Luke 12 discourse to perhaps his largest crowd ever. Many thousands (myriads) had gathered to hear Jesus. The crowd was so large they were literally trampling one another (Luke 12:1). Jesus wove several themes into this discourse, not the least of which were the twin themes of riches and trusting God. The discourse had two interruptions. The second one was from Simon Peter (v. 41). But the first one was from a man who was at odds with his brother over the family inheritance.
Possessed by Possessions
Teaching in the ancient world involved much more dialogue than today. So, the unnamed someone in the text felt comfortable interrupting Jesus. Since funerals can sometimes bring out the worst in people, this brother pleaded for Jesus to solve a family squabble about an inheritance. The boy sounded similar to the famous prodigal of Luke 15:11-32.
At first pass, Jesus’ reply can be off-putting. He might not have wanted to jump into the middle of a family fight since he was in the middle of a sermon. Or maybe Jesus was teasing out the man’s response in order to teach him a lesson (since Jesus’ words will someday be the basis of all judgment—John 12:47-50).
Jesus read this man’s heart and knew he was in deep water. He urged him to guard against greed. We must conclude from Jesus’ answer that the man suffered from being greedy and was possessed by his possessions. Jesus went on to teach that life is not about who has the most toys—an upside-down teaching both then and now.
This teaching is referred to as the parable of the rich fool. The man was a farmer (as almost everyone was in Jesus’ day). He had done well (sometimes God blesses rich unbelievers). His dilemma was he needed more storage space for his crops. This narcissist gave no regard for his community. He was wrapped up in a puny little universe called “me”; notice some form of that personal pronoun occurs 10 times in verses 17-19. He built larger barns to accommodate his crops, and then he sat back to watch the world go by.
This is one of the few parables where Jesus inserts “God” into a secular story. God called the man a fool (not an atheist but someone who has no moral compass). Death is a great wake-up call. If the man in the story had died that night, then who would own the barns full of grain? The parable has a tagline on it, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” The man was a fool (and so, possibly, was the man who interrupted Jesus).
Perspectives with Possessions
After the interruption, and after telling the rich fool parable, Jesus took a tangent for several verses and taught his disciples about material possessions. The text contains imperatives, two illustrations (object lessons of sorts), and a heartfelt appeal.
Returning to themes exposed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-34), Jesus shared some words about fretters. He said not to worry—about food and clothing. Those are real needs, and God promised to provide them for us. Two object lessons drove this home—i.e., ravens and lilies. The Middle Eastern raven was an ugly, small, and cheap bird. Arguing from the lesser to the greater, Jesus taught, “If God took care of the ravens, he will take care of you.” Worrying about such things only subtracts; it never adds to your life. Worry does not increase stature or supply more rest to the worrier.
The second object lesson is about lilies. God takes care of them to the extent they exceed Solomon’s glory. Lilies last only a short time in contrast to God’s people, who last for eternity. God knows that unbelievers are consumed with acquiring everyday needs. God wants his people to trust in him for those needs.
The text ends with a heartfelt appeal from God. Shifting from birds and flowers to sheep, Jesus wants his followers to depend on him as sheep rely on a shepherd. We can afford to be wildly generous (sell, give, and provide) because God will take care of our needs, and our generosity on earth shows that we have treasure in heaven.