Harvest and the Rich Fool
Psalm 23. Luke 12:13-21
On the face of it we could say that this man seems to be making some smart and practical business and life decisions. He’s obviously good at what he does because he has yielded a very good harvest, and now, because of that he needs to build bigger barns to store the excess crops. It seems like a smart move. Increase capacity in order to store resource for future use. I’ve met a few people who have had the ability to be able to retire earlier than they expected. Not one of them would change it. Most people do something similar to what this man did, when we put aside a little bit of money each time we are paid, either for emergencies, or for retirement. It’s the smart thing to do if you have the means to do it. But, of course, there’s more going on in this story from Jesus today… the kicker in the story is that the man is to die without being able to use any of his excess harvest and so it all becomes irrelevant, it becomes utterly worthless to him. That is how it works though – possessions are only worth something to us while we are alive, once we’re dead they are meaningless.
As well as this it seems to me that this man’s possessions were kind of worthless while he was alive as well. He plans to store them for the purposes of partying the rest of his life away. (The NRSV translation says that) he said to his soul, ‘soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ It seems to me a strange thing to say to one’s soul… Is this what our souls need to be fulfilled? Do our souls, the very essence of who we are really need to eat, drink, and drink some more? The rich man thinks he has found the goal of his life, he thinks he has found what will bring him fulfilment, he thinks he has arrived at happiness… his story is of course not an uncommon story. This is the lie that any number of movies, or music videos, or advertisements try and convince us of. To find fulfilment in life all you have to do is get rich and spend your life partying, drinking, spending money, wearing nice clothes, having that expensive wrist watch, driving that luxury car… Is this really what our souls need?
These things, they aren’t unlike a barn full of many years’ worth of harvest… it appears as though it is worth something, but ultimately it isn’t worth anything. Instead of living a rich and full life because of his circumstances, the rich man actually did the opposite. It seems to me that he disengaged from life. I get the sense of a lonely, isolated existence… frittering away what he had been blessed with on eating and drinking and lying around. This was a choice to stop living, a choice to withdraw from life. He kind of chose a sort of death before he actually died. He was no longer engaged in what was going on in the world around him, he had turned in on himself. That’s really what greed is isn’t it, a turning in on oneself, hoarding and clinging and clambering to attain more for oneself for the purpose of trying to feel like you are worth something. At the end of the day this is what it comes down to, finding our worth and value as a person.
The few verses before this passage in Luke 12 are quite helpful in shedding some more light on this. The first 12 verses of this chapter are a message saying, ‘don’t be afraid of what other people think of you, and don’t be afraid for your life. God looks after the sparrows, and you are worth more than the sparrows. God knows every hair on your head…’ essentially, you are a beloved child of God, so do not be afraid, your worth and value are not found in what others think, or in what others may or may not do to do, you are a beloved child of God. Then this situation and parable are told which is to me Jesus saying that greed is a symptom not a solution. Greed is a kind of sad existence, used by those who haven’t yet discovered their inherent value and worth as a person, that they are a beloved child of God. Greed is a symptom not a solution.
If we zoom out again and look at the whole gospel of Luke, some would say that it is trying to answer one question: What are you going to do with this gift that you have received? Or, how are you going to live now that you possess this good news of Jesus? That applies to the physical things we possess, like an abundant harvest, or I believe it also applies to the non-physical things we possess as well…. Like the knowledge that our worth as people isn’t in our material possessions but rather in our status as the loved and liked children of God. How are we now going to live, knowing what we know? Knowing this, or not knowing this, as the rich man discovered brings the material and non-material into an intertwined dance.
The Jewish people had long standing traditions of purposefully living in the opposite action of greed… generosity. Things like leaving the corners of your field unharvested so that the poor could freely come and gather food for themselves. The practice of tithing – of giving 10% of your harvest or income to the temple, was so that it could be used to feed and look after the widows, the lame, the blind, the poor. The ancient Israelites understood in these practices that they were the beloved children of God, they knew their worth as people, and so they lived accordingly. It’s partly rooted in these practices that we find ourselves giving at our harvest celebrations, and each week we practice this by bringing our offerings – God is generous towards us, we are valued and loved, and so we are free to give, free to be generous towards others. How do we live now that we know the good news of Jesus? We live by seeking to create a just community. We share what we have with those we find around us. As the author Ian Cowley says, “The value of what we do will flow directly from who we are.” When we truly know our value as beloved children of God, then that deep and generous value will flow into what we do.
So what is harvest for us? Originally it was literally about the harvest at the end of the summer season. Gather it all in, give thanks to God for what will sustain throughout the winter season. But, what is it for us now that we can simply go to the supermarket for whatever food we want whenever we want (– well almost whenever – not after 4pm on Sundays as Sharon and I discovered the other week…) What is harvest for us when most people today are not particularly connected to or involved in the sources of their food? The harvest for most people comes once a week, or fortnight, for some monthly, it appears in our bank accounts without any sort of celebration or announcement. So what is there to celebrate at harvest for us? Well I do think that at the heart of harvest there is an acknowledgement that we are receivers much more than we are givers. God has provided for us, God provides for us. The earth and all that is in it, the seasons of the year, all creation and our work living in and with it, it all adds up to life being sustained here and now. We receive much more than we ever realise and so perhaps harvest for us is a reminder of this. We take a moment to remember and to offer thanks for all that is provided for us so that we can continue on our living now and into the future. Harvest is a time to say thank you for what we have received for we are able to keep living because of it. What we receive from time passing is the gift of the future still coming.
This kind of thinking on harvest doesn’t need to be limited to money or food. We are the receivers of many kinds of harvests. Yes we receive money and food and this enables our living but we also receive other gifts from other kinds of harvests. The harvest of experience gained by working through difficulty. The harvest of reconciliation gained by entering into conflict and working towards resolution. The harvest of skills and abilities learned through hours spent in training. The value in all types of harvest is that it enables us to continue living into the future. This is what the rich man failed to understand and so instead he chose to stop living. What was his legacy? Barns full of potential, sitting idle, slowly rotting into nothingness. Our legacy is the only thing that will last beyond our death. What we invest our lives in, will be what remains once we have moved on. Are we as the church in the 21st century using the riches of all kinds that we have received, are we investing them into a life that will remain once we have passed? The Church all across the world is facing big questions of the future. The real question posed to us today is, what are we doing with all the richness of time, tradition, experience, property and resource? Are we investing in a way of life that benefits all? Do we look towards the future with hope, expectant of what God still has for us?
As Christians we are called to create just communities, communities that bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to simply live as if what we believe is true. That we are loved and liked by God. We are to share all we have. Our physical resources, our talents and skills, our mental and emotional resources… we are to share our story… we are to share the good news of Jesus. We are not to stay stagnant sitting on our history, we are to choose life here and now and an expectant future for ourselves, and for those we find ourselves rubbing shoulders with.
May we remember who we are and truly live into who we have been created and called to be.
 Ian Cowley, The Contemplative Minister, p26.