When reading today’s Gospel, one movie that came to mind. Just one. Remember that movie Wall Street? I know many of us in this room and online remember the movie Wall Street with Michael Douglas that came out in the late 1980s. His character, Gordon Gekko was a corporate raider, a businessperson who specialized in taking over companies, usually quite hostiley. He was the villain in the movie, the antagonist, he was rebellious and ruthless and smart. The kind of character you love to hate, or maybe the kind of character that you hate to admit you find him appealing. He had this line in that movie that became ubiquitous in our cultural language and landscape.
He was speaking to a large group of people, stockholders in a company that he was taking over, and he said “Greed is good.” It was this heart-stopping line because of it was such a paradox! Who in the world thinks greed is good?!
Gordon Gekko was talking about earthly things for sure – he was talking about money…and he was talking about power. It was almost like a sermon he was giving, his own Sermon on the Mount for the corporate world. His discourse compared individual power like power to the people, vs. corporate power, empire power. He talked about who owns what (shareholders vs management), who has stake in the company, and who is accountable to who.
What stands out is that he talked about greed. He turned greed on its head, by saying: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” He spoke about how greed, in all of its forms…greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge, is how humankind evolves.
It is a heady, galvanizing speech. Gordon Gekko may have been addressing the corporate world of the 80s, but today, all of us, participating in this conversation about God, here in this room and online, we are all are aware of the greed that he’s talking about. We see it often. We might even experience it.
In our culture today, greed can be tangible, it can be about material possessions and resources like money or land or shoes or the thing that’s bigger and supposedly better. Greed can also be intangible. We see greed in wanting to get as many likes as possible on social media. We see greed in our need for approval or validation or attention from others. It can be about chasing status or prestige. We can even be greedy about our time, our schedules, about being right, about control, or about soooo many other things.
Greed is about what we store up. It’s about what we hold on to, what we don’t let go of.
But here’s the question: why is that so bad?
In today’s story, Jesus mentions greed too. He talks about ownership. He talks about accountability. At first, we see Jesus talking directly to the disciples. Then, we see him addressing the large crowd. Jesus is asked to divide a family inheritance. It seems that someone is holding on to that inheritance. Jesus refuses to give instructions and instead says, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?…Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then he tells them a parable. Always a parable. Always storytelling in a way that Jesus hopes we’ll understand.
In the parable, there’s a landowner whose land has produced abundantly. There’s plenty and plenty of grain. The man is wondering how and where to store all those crops. He tears down the barns that currently store the grain and builds bigger ones. That doesn’t seem so bad, does it? It might even be smart. Maybe the landowner is preparing for the worst. He’s saving for a rainy day. Perhaps he’s guarding against a famine. That’s not so bad, is it? Don’t we do the same? With our savings accounts and 401ks. We store up those and might try not to touch them until retirement or an emergency. Those of us who are first generation immigrants, who invest money because that’s how we try to ensure our family continues to live and thrive. That’s smart, right? That’s not greed, is it?
So what is Jesus teaching us here?
There is so much that Jesus is teaching us here.
First, Jesus is teaching us to do our own work. In the story, he refuses to do the crowd’s work. He leaves it up to them to decide how to divide the inheritance. He says, You figure it out. You decide. What you do with your gifts is up to you. You have the freedom to choose that. In today’s story, Jesus us telling us the same thing.
What Jesus cares about is the bigger lesson. The bigger lesson is Jesus is teaching us to think of abundance in God’s terms.
This passage in Luke’s gospel uses words like “greed” and “abundance” and “riches.” And this: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
That is it right there. “Rich toward God.”
What do we mean when we say abundance and living the abundant life? What do we mean when we talk about being rich toward God?
What this story in Luke is teaching us is a model for how to think about God’s wealth. Jesus is teaching us a framework for how to think about the abundance God has given us. What is God’s role for you when it comes to what you produce abundantly? Jesus is teaching us, You decide that, and you decide that with God.
What this passage is also saying is…to look at the abundance in your life through the Jesus lens. That could be where you invest your time. What you spend your talents on. How you practice forgiveness. Where you let mercy live in your relationships. Abundance through the Jesus lens is the compassion and openness and understanding you infuse in your listening and your truthtelling to people. Whether it’s your wealth of time, your wealth of talent, your wealth in any number of things…God gives gifts to the world through individual people. All of us, each of us has a role. We can choose it. That’s what this Gospel is teaching us.
Here’s an example. An artist spends a ton of her free time painting various things in her community that need painting. Her friends might scoff at that and say, Why are you spending all your time like that? Instead, you could be working toward showing at an art gallery? What you’re doing doesn’t even make sense.” If she’s living rich toward God, her response is, “I have all I need, I’m helping beautify this neighborhood and taking care ofour little corner of the world. This is how I choose to share my gifts of time and art that God gave me, in the way I think God wants me to.”
Another example. Someone gets a bonus at work or receives dividends from their investments and gives it to the church. The world may say, “That doesn’t seem like a smart investment. That’s what you’re going to do with your dividends? That goes against everything we’re taught. You’re just going to give it away? Why are you pledging so much?! Invest it in something, invest it in the market. What you’re doing is foolish!” The person’s kingdom of God response? “Doing this is what aligns my values with God’s values. This is what brings my heart toward God’s heart. It might seem foolish to give to the church. That might look foolish to the world, but that alignment with God brings me joy.”
What might look like foolishness to the world…is holy in this Kingdom of God that we live in. Jesus’ parable in today’s passage from Luke has specific, strong language. Jesus’ parable shows God calling the landowner a “fool.” A fool for what? For focusing on what he cannot take with him when he dies. For storing up his abundance for himself, rather than looking at his abundance through the lens of what God wants him to do with it. Jesus is not playing around in this parable. We need Jesus, we need the Jesus lens so that we can be our better selves. What Jesus is talking about here is world foolishness vs. holy foolishness.
God loves us foolishly. God loves us lavishly. God loves us recklessly and intentionally. God’s love for us knows no boundaries. It has no borders. There is no target audience when it comes to God’s love, it is all encompassing. And that might seem foolish to some in the world. We can’t even imagine God’s love for us. The depth of it. The intentionality of it. God lavishes God’s love on you. If that is not abundance, then I don’t know what is.
Examples of God’s lavish love are all throughout the Bible. The woman, mentioned in all four gospels, who anoints Jesus’ head and feet with the alabaster jar of costly ointment or perfume, bathing and drying his feet with her tears and hair. The prodigal son who squanders his inheritance, questions his value, admits his sin and returns home to a lavish welcome of compassion and celebration from his father. Even in today’s lesson from Hosea we see God lavishing God’s love on the people of Israel. Even when people turn from God, when they stray from God, the imagery is still of God loving them lavishly – teaching them, parenting them, healing them, feeding them, “with chords of human kindness and bands of love”, the prophet Hosea says. Here, John Collins describes in his book A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, God is portrayed as being filled with emotion and devotion, choosing the highest ideals of mercy and compassion rather than anger and ruin. The world might say that’s the foolish love of God. To us Christians it looks a different way. We say that looks like the wisdom of God. We say that looks like what God values. And that is good.
If we’re going to have greed, be greedy for Jesus. Be voracious for Jesus and his teachings. Be greedy for God’s love! Because God already loves you abundantly! What do we do with God’s lavish, full love? We do not store it up. We do not even return it. We Share it. We offer it. To God, and to one another.
We don’t just take it, the love that God lavishes on us. Remember the God we worship is one of relationship. We receive that abundant, lavish love and we give it. We offer it to our neighbors the people God has put in our lives and trusted us with. We share it. And most importantly we lavish love on God, in worship, in prayer.
That’s abundant life, that’s being rich toward God: when our values align with God’s values. When our choices reflect God’s will for us. When we are living out God’s will, we use the Jesus lens for how to share our time, our talent, our gifts. We are made to be this way.
This looks differently for each different person.
What you do with your time, and your talent is good for God’s role for you. There’s no one size fits all. Even what greed is, is different for every person and is defined by your relationship with God.
It is interesting what Gordon Gekko says about greed. He’s so sure what greed is. He may have been delivering his Sermon on the Mount, but he is not God. As Christians we know that greed is not the way of life, God is the way of life. We cannot define the good way of life without God.
- How do you account for what you’ve spent and invested and stored up in your life? Maybe we can measure that with God values.
- What do we do with whatever it is that we produce abundantly? We lavish it on God and on one another.
That might look like foolishness to the world. As Jesus followers, it looks to us a different way. It looks like the good life. Which is a rich life. That life with God is good.