Slow

Small

Simple

Still

Cash or Compassion

Okay, we are catching up with Jesus here at the end of a very long day. 

It started at the beginning of Chapter 11, when Jesus’ disciples saw him praying and asked him to teach them too. At that point, Jesus confirmed what he had only hinted at before: that God is not just Jesus’ Father, but the disciples’ Father also. Which means they are guaranteed to inherit all the riches of their Father’s kingdom! 

Then, later in the day, Jesus was casting out a demon, and the people demanded a bigger miracle. They wanted Jesus to really really prove that he is the Messiah, God’s Anointed King. Jesus gave them a sign: he promised that on Judgement Day, pagans would stand up and judge that generation for not listening to their rightful King. 

But Jesus knew that the people were rejecting him because they had been taught to reject him by the Pharisees and lawyers, who should have been teaching the people how to recognize their Messiah when he arrived. So that evening, when a Pharisee invited Jesus over for dinner, Jesus took that opportunity to put the Pharisees and the lawyers on notice: he is going to fire them if they do not repent and begin teaching the truth about the God of compassion, and the Law of compassion. 

This made the lawyers and Pharisees so angry that, after dinner, they followed Jesus out into the street and were arguing with him there. And this got the afternoon crowd’s attention, so they came running back into town to see the show. And that is when Jesus, speaking openly, warned his disciples — and everyone else — to stay away from the Pharisees, because they are infected with a virus: the virus of selfishness, of self-salvation at any cost. Jesus warned everyone that the Pharisees have been deliberately twisting God’s Word around so they could stay in control of their own salvation and everyone else’s salvation! And Jesus warned us that authorities infected with the Pharisees’ virus are going to persecute us and try to destroy us — but we don’t need to be afraid because God is our Father, and the Holy Spirit is our voice. 

So this is the continuing scene Luke has set for us: Jesus, with his disciples, at night on the street of some town, surrounded by Pharisees and lawyers who hate him, and by crowds who are just there for the excitement of seeing theologians lose their temper in public. 

And we can tell that the crowd is not really listening to Jesus! Because, right here in verse 13 — right after Jesus has finished warning everyone that the Pharisees are leading everyone to hell with their false teaching — some dude from the crowd suddenly says, “Hey! Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 

Really? 

Jesus has just been talking about Judgement Day, and you want to follow up with a question about money? And we’re all thinking, “Are you listening at all, dude?” 

But I should pause here to explain that for the Pharisees, and for this man, there is a connection between Judgement Day and money. See, in Jewish teaching at that time, it was assumed that the rich are more likely to enter God’s kingdom. This is how they reasoned: in the Old Testament it says that if you are righteous — if you obey God’s Law — God will bless you. That means getting rich, right? Therefore anyone who is rich must be righteous! 

Obviously, this kind of teaching is still around: many “Christian” teachers in our age have been fully infected with the Pharisees’ virus. They teach this exact thing: if you really have faith in Jesus, God will make you rich. Therefore, if you are rich, you can be certain that you have true faith in Jesus. 

…I’m tempted to say more about this. But Jesus has already said enough: he has condemned such teachers for blasphemy, and he has warned us all to stay away from them. They are an infection. So: if you ever hear a teacher say something like that, run away screaming. Never go back… 

So anyway: the Pharisees have convinced everyone that your earthly inheritance is proof of your heavenly inheritance. So when this guy interrupts Jesus’ teaching about Judgement Day and changes the subject to money — in his mind he’s not actually changing the subject. The Pharisees have convinced him that money has a lot to do with Judgement Day! 

And the Pharisees are right! Money does have a lot to do with Judgement Day. But they are right in exactly the wrong way. And Jesus is going to explain that to us in just one moment. 

But Luke’s immediate point here is that this guy is not listening to Jesus. He is listening to — and thinking like — the Pharisees. Which means God is not his Father. Which means Jesus doesn’t have time for his nonsense: 

[14] Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 

In other words: “Dude! That’s not my job! That’s not what I’m here to do.” 

[15] Then he said to them — 

— to the whole crowd — 

— “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 

Remember, just a few minutes before this, Jesus said, “Be on your guard against the virus of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Now he is saying it again: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” For Jesus, greed and hypocrisy and the Pharisees’ virus are all parts of the same deadly infection. 

And to illustrate this Jesus goes on to tell a story: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.” 

This word “ground” here, in the Greek, means a large piece of ground. In our modern world we might say, “the ‘plantation’ of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.” 

So the idea here is that the rich man is very rich. Therefore: very righteous. Very blessed by God. 

So: [17] He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' [18] “Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. [19] And I'll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ' 

And this makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? God has given this man financial security! Why shouldn’t he sit back and enjoy it? What else does he have to work for? After all, he has arrived exactly where we all want to arrive! Right? 

But then Jesus throws in the twist ending: [20] “But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'[21] This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Oops. 

The Pharisees have been saying that to store up things for yourself is to be rich toward God. To store up things for yourself is to prove that you are righteous. 

But the Pharisees are wrong. Riches do not prove righteousness. Riches do not guarantee salvation. Jesus has just told everyone that it is possible to store up things for yourself and yet not be rich toward God. 

So the question we all should be asking now is this: what does it mean to be “rich toward God”? 

Well, Jesus has already told us what it is not. It is not building bigger barns, and storing surplus grain, and then retiring. 

But that just leaves us with more questions, doesn’t it? Like: is saving money a sin? Is retirement a sin? If the Pharisees — and many modern false teachers — are saying, “Riches prove righteousness,” are we supposed to answer by saying, “No, poverty proves righteousness”? 

Not quite. That would still be legalism: self-salvation. Remember, God’s Law is not about tiny little legalistic details. If we start thinking that poverty proves righteousness, then very soon we’ll be arguing with each other about just how poor is poor, how rich is rich, how much can a Christian own and still be called a Christian, and our life as a church would quickly become very nasty and judgemental! 

So if riches do not prove righteousness, and poverty does not prove righteousness, what does? How can we know if we are being “rich toward God” without getting lost in obsessive-compulsive religious questions about money? 

Well, this is where the story structure of Luke really matters. We cannot just read this passage in isolation; otherwise we will become judgemental legalists, just like the Pharisees. Instead, we have to think back over the last few chapters, and remember that Jesus has already been teaching us how to approach God’s Law without falling into the obsessive-compulsive religious trap. 

So, pop quiz: what has Jesus been teaching us about God’s Law? (I’ll make it multiple choice) 

God’s Law is about 

a). obsessive-compulsive religious details. 

b). compassion. 

Well done. You all get 1000 points. 

So, when Jesus says, “This is how it will be with whoever is not rich toward God,” he is saying: “This is how it will be with whoever does not have compassion on others.” 

Being “rich toward God” means showing compassion.  

So the rich man’s sin was not in “storing up things for himself”. His sin was refusing to be compassionate. 

See, this is not actually a story about a rich man and his personal bank account. In those days a wealthy plantation owner would have been the foundation of his town’s economy. He would have many people depending on him for work and for food; his business decisions would affect the whole region. 

So, for this man to suddenly receive — from God! — a very large harvest of grain, this could have meant extra food for everyone in town. And Jesus is not saying this man has to give it all away. See, if he had decided to sell his surplus in the local market, the market would have become saturated. And all you business people out there know what happens when the market is saturated: prices fall. So if the plantation owner had decided to sell, even the very poor of that town would have been able to afford to buy more food. Everyone would have benefited, and the plantation owner would still have made a profit! 

But this man wants a higher profit margin. So he stores his surplus instead of selling. This keeps local prices higher. And later on, if there is a drought, a famine, then he could really make a lot of money! 

And here’s the thing: the local people would not have judged this man for that. They would be thinking, “the man is rich because he is righteous, therefore he deserves to be rich!” But there is an unspoken assumption that goes with that kind of thinking: if the rich deserve to be rich…then the poor deserve to be poor. The poor must be poor because they have somehow upset God. Which means that this rich man is under no obligation to benefit the poor by selling his grain at a lower price. 

And, obviously, this kind of thinking is still around: most modern people would agree that a businessman is not obligated to benefit anyone but his own company, his own profit-margins. 

And that is true! — if you are infected with the Pharisees’ virus of obsessive-compulsive self-salvation. 

But see, that is Jesus’ whole point. Compassion, by definition, does not mean acting under legal obligation. It means acting freely for the benefit of others — especially for those who do not deserve your kindness! 

The Pharisees’ kingdom, the Pharisees’ law — Satan’s law — is obsessed with who deserves how much of what; who deserves to be in, who deserves to be out. If you live like that, if you think like that, then you are a slave in that kingdom. 

But God’s Kingdom, God’s Law, is obsessed with compassion. If you live by the Law of compassion, then you are a citizen in God’s Kingdom. 

The problem with this man is not the big size of his bank account; it’s the small size of his heart. He should have realized that God gave him this huge blessing so that he could pass it on! 

But because he thought only of himself — of his own financial and spiritual security — God ended him. 

This man’s faith was not in God; it was in his wealth. And it cost him his soul. 

This is why Jesus talks about greed as a virus, an infection that spreads, and kills whole generations. This is why he says, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees! Be on your guard against every kind of greed!” These things will cost you your soul. 

… 

[22] Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. [23] For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. [24] Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! [25] Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life ? [26] Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 

Until now Jesus has been talking to people with money. In short: don’t just be rich on earth! — be rich toward God also. Use your wealth compassionately! 

Now he has turned to his disciples, and he is challenging them to remember that — whether they are rich or poor! — God is their Father. Just this morning he taught them how to pray; just this morning (back at the beginning of Chapter 11) he told them that God is eager to help, better than any neighbor! that he loves to give good things to his kids, better than any earthly father! 

So now, at night on that same day, Jesus is repeating and reinforcing that lesson: 

[27] “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. [28] If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you---you of little faith! 

See, Jesus knows his disciples; he knows us: we of little faith! We forget so quickly, don’t we? You look around at the world and suddenly that voice starts whispering in your ear, “You need to save yourself. You need to look out for yourself. No one else can; no one else will.” 

That is how the infection always begins: with a whisper of fear. Fear becomes self-interest; self-interest: greed; and greed always devours compassion, it always destroys what little faith we do have. 

So how do we fight off this infection? By listening to Jesus, by repeating to ourselves what he has already said, what he is saying here again: ”It is not what we do that lets us inherit eternal life. It is who we are: children of the compassionate God!” 

So: [29] “…do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. [30] For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. [31] “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 

He sees us! He knows what we need better than we do! 

So our only responsibility is to be good citizens of our Father’s Kingdom. 

And what is a good citizen? A good citizen is someone who lives by the laws of the kingdom. 

And what are the laws of our Father’s Kingdom? Love God with all you are; love your neighbor without regard for race or religion. 

In other words: live a life of compassion, and these things will be given to you as well: your food, your drink, your clothing, everything you need to live for as long as you live. 

[32] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. [33] Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. [34] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

See, in the end, the Pharisees are right: there is a connection between money and Judgement Day. But this is where they are wrong: the question God asks on that day is not, “How much money did you save up?” It is, “How did you use the money I gave you?” 

We are children of the only compassionate God. Which means we are called to act like our Father: we are called to live lives of compassion and generosity, especially for those who do not deserve our kindness. When we do this, we are investing in our Father’s Kingdom; saving up a treasure in heaven, a treasure that cannot be lost or stolen because Satan no longer has access to God’s throne room. 

Does this mean we should not invest in earthly treasure? No. Jesus did not say the plantation owner should tear down all his barns, give away all his grain and all his land: that would destroy the local economy! And here in verse 33, Jesus does not say, “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor” — if we did that we would starve our own children. The Law of compassion is not a black-and-white law of legal obligation; it does not say, “Everyone must sell!” or “Everyone must save!” The Law of compassion requires careful thought, careful prayer. It requires wisdom. Sometimes compassion means selling your surplus, as the plantation owner should have done. Sometimes compassion means not selling your surplus; I’m remembering in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament, who build many extra barns — and ended up saving God’s people. 

So, yes! We should invest in earthly treasure. But even while we invest, we must remember to be “rich toward God”. Our earthly investments matter! But the profit margin we are looking for is the ability to re-invest in compassion for one another, for the poor, the refugees, for orphans and widows, and all the undeserving. 

… 

When we talk about money, we’re talking about something very practical. And because money is so practical, because it’s connected to food and clothing and everything we need to live, it’s easy for our discussions to get lost in practical, detail-oriented questions. It’s so easy for our conversations about money to become all about accounting. We start wondering about our legal obligations, we fall back into obsessive-compulsive religious details, and we end up smothering our compassion. 

Here, Jesus gives us two ways to keep that from happening. 

First, we must remember that compassion lies at the heart of God’s Law, not legal obligation. If we can remember compassion, then we will ask the right questions when it comes to what we should do with our money. We won’t be wondering how much we should give, or how little we can get away with, whether God wants us to be rich or poor; instead, we’ll be asking, “what is the compassionate thing to do in this particular situation?” 

Second, we must remember that God is our compassionate Father. He knows what we need, and he will gladly give it to us. If we can remember this, then we will not give way to fear when it comes to what we should do with our money. We won’t have to wonder how to turn every situation to our own advantage; we won’t have to worry about our life or our salvation. And this will set us free to be generous. 

So the antidote to greed and legalism is very simple: remember that God is your Father, and remember that compassion is at the heart of God’s Law. It’s very simple — but I do want to be honest, friends: it is not always easy. We live in a system that has been programmed by the Evil One, a system operated by Pharisees and lawyers. In this world, selfishness gets you farther than compassion. In fact, it’s worse than that: compassion can get you dragged into court; compassion can even get you killed. 

Now, some of you might say, “really? Aren’t you overstating it a bit?” No, I am not. For example: in his book The Gulag Archipelago, the author Alexandr Solzhenitzyn tells us that in the Soviet prison camp system anyone who was compassionate, or kind, or generous, would be dead within weeks: starved and worked into the ground. The only way to survive in there was to steal and bribe your way into a safe position. And he talks about his own guilt as a survivor, realizing that time and again he saved his own life by eating bread that belonged to another man who was too weak to claim his portion. 

Solzhenitzyn goes on to point out that the prison camp system in Soviet Russia was really just a super-concentrated reflection of Soviet society at large. He says that the whole Communist system was designed so that those who lie, cheat, and steal get to the top, while honest people fall down to the bottom. 

I’m going to go further than him: I’m going to say that Soviet society was just a concentrated reflection of our entire world system. Now, I am not claiming that all political systems are identical; but I am claiming that the world in general rewards those who are faster, smarter, stronger and more unscrupulous than their neighbors. We do live in a Darwinian world. And that fact is something we should consider carefully as we go about our lives and our careers. We do not, at the end of our lives, want to look back and wonder if we survived by eating bread that belonged to another. 

So yes: in this world system compassion can keep you from advancing in your career. Compassion can get you arrested. Compassion can get you killed. That process took two weeks in the Soviet prison camp system; it could take years or decades in a city like KL — but it is a real danger. It is a real fear I know we all face: how can I live a Christian life without getting completely devoured by the ah long in government and in business? 

Well, as Jesus has said, “Do not be afraid, little flock.” God is our Father! Compassion is our Law. And though it seems weak and contemptible in the eyes of the world, compassion is the weapon that will one day make all things new. 

Next week, Jesus is going to say much more about that Day, and what it means for how we live our lives in this age. 

But for now, we need to realize that this whole day in the life of Jesus — from teaching the disciples to pray in the morning, to warning the disciples against greed in the evening — the theme of this whole day is Trust. In all these different episodes, Luke is really asking us the same question again and again: who are you going to trust to take care of your body and your soul: yourself? Or your Father? 

The Pharisees — and the rest of the world — are going to insist, “You need to save yourself. No one else can; no one else will.” 

But Jesus is right when he points out that that kind of philosophy always leads to selfishness, greed, darkness, and, eventually, death. 

So we have a rather simple choice, really — simple, but difficult: we can live by the Pharisees’ law and perhaps be very successful in this life! — only to be destroyed by God in the end, like the plantation owner. Or we can live by Compassion’s Law and perhaps find ourselves hated and destroyed by the world — only to inherit eternal life. 

And what makes this choice difficult is the fact that the Kingdom feels like it is out there somewhere, while suffering and rejection and persecution are right here, right now. 

I had to make this choice when I was nineteen years old. I had been in America for only two years. I was still learning the culture, still just struggling to survive. The economy was in bad shape, so the only job I could find was working at a petrol station for $5/hr. This meant that I could afford to rent a room, put petrol in my car, and buy food for half the month. After that, I had to find my food in garbage cans (which is a whole other story). And when winter came, I had no money for a coat; so I borrowed one from the station. I would wear it for my eight hour shift, then I would give it to another guy who wore it for eight hours, then another guy, and then I would get it back when I came into work. 

And these verses haunted me during those months. I kept praying, “God, you boast about how you feed the birds and how beautifully you clothe the flowers, you say I’m far more important than birds or flowers, but here I am eating from garbage cans and wearing a smelly borrowed coat!” 

Of course, God was speaking quietly to me. He was saying, “Ian, I am keeping my promise. You are fed and clothed, aren’t you? Or can it be that you are too proud to eat perfectly good food from the garbage can? too proud to share a coat with two other men?” 

But it was hard for me to hear him because the voices of the world were so loud. That part of America was extremely hostile to Christianity; I was the only Christian I knew. And all my work mates ridiculed my faith. They kept saying, “Ian, Jesus doesn’t care about us! Other Christians don’t care about us! They pull up in their nice warm cars — “ (and we could tell who were the Christians because of their bumper stickers) “ — while we stand outside in the cold pumping their petrol. Nobody cares about us! You have got to look out for Number One or this world will eat you up!” And then they taught me how to steal car stereos, just in case I came to my senses and decided to supplement my income. 

So the voices of the world grew louder and louder while the voice of my Father grew softer. I really began to question whether the words of Jesus are really true. 

But my Father had not forgotten me. One freezing night a “Christian” pickup truck drove in, complete with bumper-stickers and even a bible sitting on the dashboard. And all my work mates were like, “Ha! That’s ‘your guy’, Ian!” And sure enough, when the driver got out he was dressed as Bible Study Boy: sweater-vest, khaki pants, dress shoes, clean-shaven, short haircut — you know, the opposite of me. And all my work mates were like, “mmpha-ha-ha!” It was humiliating. 

So I go over to him and he says, “Fill it up!” And I was supposed to write “fill up” on a piece of paper so he could take it in to the cashier and pay when I was finished. But the pen was frozen from the cold, I had to thaw it with my breath, and even when I tried to write my hands were shaking. And this guy looked at that and said, “You’re pretty cold, aren’t you?” 

And I felt like saying, “No s***, Sherlock!” Instead, I said, “Yes, I am.” 

And then Bible Study Boy took off his leather gloves and gave them to me. And saved my faith. 

I have never forgotten it. And I’ve never forgotten how, after he drove off, my work mates looked at my hands and said, “Whaaat? Where did you get those?” 

And I said, “‘My guy’ gave them to me.” 

Friends, this is why compassion is so important: we never know how far one small act might carry the love of God. 

And this is why listening to Jesus’ voice is so important. The voices of the world are so loud, so demanding; they play on our fears; they feed on our doubts. This is why it is so important for us to keep coming back to where we can hear him: to places like this, where we can rest, and be generous to one another. If we don’t, we will forget that God is our Father. We will begin to give into fear. Fear will infect us with selfishness and greed. And greed will swallow up compassion; it can swallow up whole generations. 

So let us close with the words of Christ: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it, [for] your Father knows that you need them.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” 

You're Going Where?

Under New Management