13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A man dies leaving behind two sons and no will. One of the sons is greedy and tricksy. He takes everything – the accounts, the land, the house, and all the possessions. The other son just wanted a desk he and his father had spent hours sanding and refinishing together. Would you call that second son covetous? Would you tell him to let his greedy brother keep everything while he gets nothing? Jesus does.
We don’t know if this man is asking Jesus to judge and arbitrate so he can have millions of dollars or just an old desk, but it doesn’t meter either way. This man is asking Jesus to be his brother’s judge according to the Law, and you cannot point the Law at others. He is angry about his brother’s greed, but he himself is greedy and obsessed with stuff.
Jesus says, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Remember, Jesus is speaking to people who had just barely enough to live. People who might have had one spare set of clothes but no more. Jesus is speaking to people who were one sickness, one injury, one bad growing season away from disaster and death. “Be on your guard against all covetousness.”
Today, we don’t give coveting a second thought. In fact, the majority all industry and commerce is built around the fact that we covet. You see the commercials. “Get this truck that will haul more than your truck and get better fuel economy.” “Do you have toenail fungus? Talk to your doctor about this pill and see how great your life will be. You will finally be able to wear sandals again. The skies will be bluer. Your spouse and kids will smile more. Oh, by the way, common side effects are headache; diarrhea; kidney failure; and, in some rare instances, death.”
And then there’s HGTV: the network that has made millions because we all break the 9th Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.” I watch it, and then I walk around the house God has given our family thinking, “I wish our kitchen was a little bigger and our cupboards went up to the ceiling. A walk-in closet would make life a whole lot easier. If only we had a master bathroom. Nothing big or fancy, just a double vanity so my wife doesn’t have to deal with my whiskers in the sink.” And on and on it goes.
“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Coveting is the beginning of all sin. Sin, all sin, starts from the bottom, “You shall not covet.” And it works its way up through the rest of the Commandments until, finally, it breaks the First, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” In our Epistle lesson (Col. 3:1-11), Paul says that covetousness is idolatry (v. 5). Think about it. When you covet, you make yourself to be God. That thing over there should be over here. You know better than God what you should or shouldn’t have. Right?
Now, every one of God’s commands can be broken by veering to the right or to the left. We sin against God by the things we do (sins of commission) and by the things we do not do (sins of omission). Take the 5th Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. We break this commandment, of course, when we commit murder, harm someone else, or even when we hate our neighbor in our heart. These are all sins of commission. But we also break the 5th Commandment when we do not help when our neighbor has a need. Same goes for the 8th Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness. We break this commandment when we lie and gossip. But we also break this commandment when we do not stand up and defend our neighbor and put the most charitable construction on our neighbor’s actions.
The same goes for the 9th and 10th Commandments about coveting. The desire to bring something into our possession when it is not ours is the sin of coveting. But what is the opposite? Contentment – having joy and delighting in the things that God has given to us.
Imagine going to your cupboard for a granola bar. But you find that the granola bars are all gone, but there is a jar of peanuts. So you take them out and chew away grumping that you don’t have a granola bar. But how many other times would you go to your cupboard looking for peanuts and be perfectly content?
God created all things, and when He was done, God looked around at everything He had made and saw that it was all very good (Gen. 1:31). Everything that we have, God has given to us, and when we do not delight in God’s gifts, we are breaking the 9th and 10th Commandments. As our Old Testament lesson said, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God” (Ecc. 2:24-25).
Our Epistle Lesson said, “Put to death what is earthly in you…” but Paul doesn’t start talking about material things like house, clothes, cars, etc. Instead, the earthly is, “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). You aren’t less likely to covet by getting more or by having less.
The way to fight against your sin of coveting is to recognize that the God who gives heavenly, spiritual blessings is also the God who gives you all of your earthly, material blessings as well. “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6). Repent. Repent for coveting what is not yours, and repent for not enjoying what God has given.
In the parable that Jesus tells, the rich fool thought he had won at the game of life and figured it was time for a victory lap of food, drink, and enjoyment. But he had miscalculated. He failed to recognize that nothing he had – his riches, his lands, his crops, his barns, and even his own precious soul that he talked to – none of it was his own. Everything he had was on loan from God. Now, God calls for all those loans to be paid in full. Despite all his riches, he had no equity. Everything he had was borrowed. We are just as foolish in our covetousness. Jesus says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
And so our Gospel lesson has, really, no Gospel in it. Just Jesus saying that there is an alternative – being rich toward God. But He doesn’t say how you can be rich toward God. The Epistle Lesson does. “You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Know that Jesus has come to give you life and life abundantly. But that life is hidden. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
So today, repent. Repent for trying to win at this foolish game of life. You have Christ. You have Him in the Word, in your Baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper. He has given you His life. He has given you His holy and precious blood. He has given you His righteousness. Jesus doesn’t hold back anything good from you. Because you are His and He is yours, you are rich, rich beyond measure, toward God. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.