One of my new guilty pleasures on television is a show on HGTV called House Hunters. The premise is that a homebuyer provides a list of needs and wants along with a budget to a realtor, and then is shown three houses from which they choose one. I’m pretty sure I’ll never tire of this program. Sometimes I try to tie some kind of virtue to my viewing: like I enjoy watching the personal journeys that the home-buyers are on and seeing how they go about building or in some cases rebuilding their lives. But really I just like to ogle the houses and the locations, and to vicariously make my own decision about which house I would choose.
There are a number of common themes in the buyers’ wants and needs. The number of bedrooms, location and distance from work or schools or shops; the yard is often on the list and inevitably so is storage space. Storage space is almost always an issue: whether it’s closets for clothes and shoes or a garage for cars and hobbies, they always comment on the storage space- or lack thereof- when they see a house.
Jesus introduces us to a man who also has an issue with storage space. And the problem is that he doesn’t have enough of it. You see he’s been really fortunate in this year’s harvest, and so he’s looking for a way to keep and preserve the overabundance of his crops. So he makes a logical decision: if you need more storage space, you create or build more storage space.
This is an admirable guy, right? Here’s a man who’s done well for himself and is trying to enjoy the fruits of his success. He’s a problem-solver: that’s a good thing, and he’s doing his advanced planning and thinking about the future.
And yet, God calls him a fool.
That’s the cheery story we hear in our Gospel this morning. I want to share another story with you- one that I came across in Cathleen Falsani’s book Sin Boldly. It’s about her time spent in a place called Kibera as a guest of the Global Alliance for Africa. The Alliance is an organization that provides microloans, primarily to women, to help them get into the formal economic system and hopefully to break the cycle of poverty. Kibera is the largest slum in Africa, situated in the center of Nairobi. Population estimates have it as home to anywhere from 110K to 2 million people, most of whom lack access to basic services like electricity, running water and education. During her stay there Cathleen’s tour guide was a woman named Josephine, who is the supervisor of one of the microloan programs as well as a university graduate. On her last day Falsani is surprised to learn that Josephine still lives in Kibera, even though she has the means to leave the slum. Instead she stays there and takes in orphans whenever she has the room. When asked why she says that it’s her home, and it’s where God wants her to be.
Between the man in the parable and Josephine in this story, who would the world judge to be the fool? Who would we most want to be like? Or to live like?
Somehow, I don’t think God would call Josephine a fool.
If we feel a little bit uncomfortable about the parable- it may or may not be some comfort to know that we’re supposed to feel at least a little bit uncomfortable about this parable. Jesus knows all too well that we are tempted to acquire stuff to make us feel secure. He knows the seduction of money and possessions…and as old as this parable is, it’s easy to imagine it in our own time and place. Maybe it would start something like this:
An employee got a large bonus…
A stock owner bought low and sold high…
A woman received a large inheritance from her family’s estate…
Our sense of what is enough isn’t static, is it? It’s always changing as our financial circumstances are changing. And since we trust more in those things that we can see and touch and feel and measure- we put our security in things that aren’t God. And since status comes with bigger and better and newer things, it’s an easy seduction to fall prey to, isn’t it? Especially in a time when we’re worried about the economy and jobs, and the future of the middle class is a hot topic for politicians.
We don’t have to live in a slum. And we don’t have to stop enjoying our possessions- that’s not what the gospel or the other story is about.
The difference between the rich fool and Josephine is the way that they used their money and possessions. The rich man thought of it in terms of himself. Josephine thought of it in terms of God. If our primary aim is to store up treasure for ourselves, we are not walking the same path as Jesus. Our abundance is not meant to be hoarded. It is meant to be used in service to God and those in need.
So how much is enough, for us to live on and to enjoy? How much is enough to give away and to share?
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc. is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.”
This isn’t a fun Gospel. I was tempted to skip it and preach on the psalm or something else- but at the end of the day, it wouldn’t be the faithful thing to do. If we didn’t need Salvation- in all aspects of our lives, God wouldn’t have sent a Savior. So it’s not surprising that some of the things in our life that we’re asked to examine are hard, and don’t come naturally to us. When the gospel is hard, we might be tempted to ignore those parts or even to quit. But to quote Tom Hanks from the movie A League of Their Own, “of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it good.”
And so, as is often the case when we meet Jesus- we have a choice. We can continue on the way we are going…we can quit…or we can examine our lives in light of the Gospel. In this particular instance- we’re invited to examine our budgets and our bank statements.
I don’t presume to know or judge you’re relationship with your possessions. But I imagine that all of us are subject to the temptation to store up treasures for ourselves…treasures that may be serving a contrary purpose to putting our whole trust in the love of God.
Abundant life awaits us in the kingdom- but it will be hard to receive it if our hands are full from grasping our earthly treasures.
So what will you do with this moment? What will you do with this Gospel?
Be rich towards God. Seek first his kingdom. Abundant life will follow.