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BIGGER BARNS Colossians 3:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21

You may be familiar with the phrase “Eat, drink and be merry!” It is good to be reminded where that came from as we hear today’s gospel reading.

A Selfish Man
A Latin proverb says that money is like sea water: the more drink the thirstier you become! Jesus described a man like that. He’d already stored up more than enough to live on for the rest of his life, but he wasn’t satisfied. His granary was full to bursting, so he knocked it down, intending to build bigger and better barns. But that night he had a dream: God said to him, ‘You fool! This very might your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ The rich fool lived within the tiny world of his own comfort and desires. He never saw the people outside, each with their own needs and wishes. His talk was to himself: I will say to my soul: Soul – you take it easy and have a good time! You can take early retirement and rest easy!

Tell my brother!
Let’s go back to where the parable came from. Someone wanted Jesus to act as an arbitrator: tell my brother to share the family inheritance with me! If you read through the whole chapter, at first this man’s request of Jesus seems as if he has got bored listening to Jesus. He suddenly interrupts, getting impatient with Jesus’ teaching. It’s as if the preacher isn’t really talking about the things that are really on the man’s heart. Teacher, tell my brother to play fair with my dad’s will! It is an interruption, but Jesus has been talking quite a lot about authority and judgments. Perhaps the man thought that this was a good chance to try and get something sorted out in his life which had been pre-occupying him for some time. There was obviously a big problem between him and his brother!

Jesus’ tells the man
Jesus’ response, as so often, is unexpected. First of all, he calls him “friend”. The man wanted him to play the role of a judge in a court of law. Jesus refuses to play that part, even though it would be quite nice to be given that kind of authority in someone’s life. “Friend” he calls him, “who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Then Jesus goes on to warn his hearers about all kinds of greed and then tells the parable of the rich fool to illustrate what he means. Jesus has not come to back up someone’s claim to an inheritance but to challenge the attitudes that lie behind such a claim. Just as the rich fool thinks he has it all sown up for an easy retirement, so the squabbling brothers are in danger of going down distracted by their pursuit of material possessions.

Do not worry
The teaching actually carries on after today’s extract, and leads to Jesus’ famous saying: Where your treasure is there will also be your heart. That comes after Jesus telling his disciples not to worry about the lack of material possessions. It is an equal and opposite fault but is still about being obsessed with the things of this world.

Notice what Jesus puts into the mouth of the rich fool after his first sentence: I will say to my soul: you have ample goods laid up for many years – relax, eat, drink and be merry. In other words, the rich fool thought that his soul could live securely with plenty to avoid work, hunger, thirst and sadness. Of course, it is cartoon-drawing. Jesus paints things larger than life in order to make a point. What is the point that Jesus is making? It’s about choices.
It seems to be a world-denying teaching that Jesus is giving. When we read the lesson from Colossians, it also seems to be rather finger-wagging and party-pooping. There is a list of big sins that don’t sound very nice to hear in church, and then there is a list of smaller sins which we might not be completely free from but are easier to forgive. Is all of this saying that we have to be squeaky-clean and saintly? If so, that can make us feel terrible failures and give up even trying to follow Christ. The man got impatient listening to Jesus because he had other things on his mind. We might get demoralised trying to achieve impossible demands.
Jesus the Judge
So what would you say to Jesus if you in were in the crowd? I think it would depend on two things: what was upper most in your concerns and what your view of Jesus was. The man was thinking of Jesus as a judge. Jesus turned round and said: “I’m not your judge, I’m your friend.” Bishop John Pritchard, in a recent book, says that as an adolescent he had a haunting and unhelpful image of Jesus the judge which he carried round in his thoughts. He suspects it is the kind of image that many teenagers harbour and I would want to say “and many older people, too!” The heart of our gospel reading is in that interruption and Jesus’ response to it. The man’s image of Jesus was that of a judge who could sort things out on his terms: “Get my brother to do what he should!” Jesus’ response was that he was thinking along the wrong lines. “I am not a judge to sort your life out, and in any case, you are like the man in this parable who has missed the point entirely!”

I wonder what your controlling image of Jesus might be? Is it a finger-wagging shadowing figure in the background who always seems to give us a bad conscience? Is it a sort of heavenly problem-solver who we blurt out at from time to time: “Why don’t you sort out the suffering and injustice in this world?” I wonder how Jesus would respond? He might say, “Friend!” and then tell a story that uncovered what our real attitude might be. The man, like the disciples, like all of us, can tend to being obsessed with our limited horizons. We might not be as bad as the rich fool who only talked to himself. Perhaps we’re more like the disciples whom Jesus goes on to warn about being over-burdened with worry. Building bigger barns is not a sin, it is a question of our attitude to what is in our barns in the first place. As it says in Colossians: it’s about re-setting our minds. When we realise what our limited image of Jesus might be, and open ourselves to the way he responds, we begin to set our minds on things that are above. We learn that Jesus is “Friend” and not “Judge”.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith




Gracious Father,
revive your Church in our day,
and make her holy, strong and faithful,
for your glory's sake
in Jesus Christ our Lord.