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Environmental Stewardship Commission

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

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Lectionary Reflection

Year C, Proper 13 Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Lesson

Luke 12: 13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "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 told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

Reflection on Luke 12: 13-21 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” The Greek word that is translated by our word “greed” is built on a Greek root meaning “too much.” It is not only a matter of having lots of stuff, but of having too much for one’s good, for the good of others, for the good of the human community., even for the good of earth’s ecosystem.“Abundance” is not the issue. What we do or do not do with our abundance is.

“Eco-justice” is a concept that searches for equitable balance between the various needs of both land and labor. That balance is implicitly at issue in this parable of the rich fool.

To be sure, in antiquity there was no possibility that humanity could greatly maim or even destroy the ecosystem entire. Consequently the ecological imbalances that we face could not be directly addressed either within the biblical canon, or within its surrounding ancient literature. Nonetheless the warning against “greed,” against lusting for “too much,” sets a standard for human behavior that needs no translation to be ecologically relevant.

As Kevin Phillips (see his books Wealth and Democracy, and The Politics of Rich and Poor) and others have shown, there is a huge and growing gap between the most wealthy 1% of American population and the remaining 99%, especially the bottom quartile of the population. What a reversal of the shepherd image envisioned by Jesus, the shepherd who gave special attention to the bottom one, the lost one, and even though he had 99 sheep, he kept looking for the lost one sheep! Here the opposite is the case. Present economic and tax policies favor the rich 1% at the expense of all others. The parable is Jesus’ answer to a question about inheritance. In direct contradiction to this parable’s wisdom, we now have demagogic rhetoric about “the death tax,” and tax policies that favor transmission of enormous wealth within a family for generations—no matter what the social consequences, no matter how much greed is involved.

The consequences for flora and fauna, and for the ecosystem upon which they depend, have been severe, and they continue to move toward unmitigated disaster. How we treat one another is in fact how we treat the world around us. The problem is us, our priorities, our valuing consumption and immediate gratification without regard to long-term consequences, our refusal to count the human and ecological costs of greed.

So where is the gospel in Jesus’ parable? The good news is that Jesus both sees realistically our futile quests for security in things, and sees beyond them to more enduring reality being enacted here and now. “Real” reality transforms our priorities, frees us from obsession with acquisitions, and sets our vision on “life” (12:15). True reality makes us, as the Greek word order puts it, want to have a “toward God wealth” (12:21, eis theon plouton). We make our wealth move “toward God,” serve God’s purposes rather than “store up treasures for [our]selves.”

We have heard the diminutive expression that someone was “merely human,” or that a certain action was “only human.” That turns reality upside down, however. What is truly human we see in Jesus, who fulfilled God’s intention for all humanity (Romans 5:12-21, etc.). The futile search for security in military might, in economic power, in domination over other nations and religions and cultures has nothing to do with reality; indeed, all that is a frontal attack on “real” enduring reality. The former will all pass away, for it is insubstantial and represents “non-being,” lack of full reality.

The “good news” of this parable is that God wants to deliver us from idolatry of abundance, and liberate us for liberal living for others, including caring for the world around us. If greed is foolishness, being “rich toward God” is freedom, liberation, liberality, even liberal living (the Latin liber, which is the root of these words, means “free”). In this, as in other matters, the Christian faith both shakes the foundations of rich foolishness and bottom line thinking, and on the other hand, builds enduring habitats for humanity while preserving the eco-justice that God built into the good creation.

Copyright Statement

Reflections on other Readings [Standard (Episcopal) and Revised Common Lectionary] for Year C, Proper 13

Revised Common Lectionary

Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary

Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Lesson:
Hosea 11: 1-11
no reflection available
Ecclesiastes 1: 2, 12; 2: 18-23
no reflection available
Ecclesiastes 1:12-14;2:(1-7,11)18-23
no reflection available
Psalm 107: 1-9, 43
no reflection available
Psalm 49: 1-11
no reflection available

Psalm 49 or 49: 1-11

no reflection available
New Testament Lesson:
Colossians 3: 1-11
no reflection available
Colossians 3: (5-11) 12-17
no reflection available
Luke 12: 13-21
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Luke 12: 13-21
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John Gibbs, PhD, is a retired theologian, who attended Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 2004. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

MEESC c/o C. Morello 4451 Lakeside Drive Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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