Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NASB)
I nearly went zipping through this verse into the parable without stopping to consider what Jesus just said. I don’t know, but I suspect that this section, immediately following the “yeast” of the Pharisees, is not for the upper (or middle) middle-class, but for the poorer laborer class. Striving to make ends meet, longing for the day they can take it easier, be less stressed about surviving each day, and so on.
A random guy from the crowd yells out to Jesus to coerce his brother into “sharing”. Jesus refuses to be drawn into it, and then says this to kick off a section about “greed” or “covetousness”. It’s the “Intro” and I nearly missed it. Jesus’ main point will pivot around this statement, and I wasn’t paying attention. Well, let’s look at it.
Greed is something to guard against. The desire to have more than our needs met is the natural course of humans, and care must be taken to redirect our focus away from it. In a way, desire for more naturally catches the eye, and we have to be diligent to not keep looking.
Granted, some people don’t know why they shouldn’t; they sense no competing motivation. Some sense a competing motivation, but it has little to do with Jesus. Some just flip it around and turn the desire into a more insidious desire to take from others because they have “too much”, and others “not enough”. It amounts to the same thing since there is a forced re-distribution going on, and the one doing the forcing usually takes their “fair share” as part of the process.
The truth is, this statement to guard against this greed is counter-culture to this Twenty-first Century American Culture in which I live. Everything around me competes against this charge to be on my guard against greed.
The support for the charge to guard against greed is interesting. Having much, many things, does not make my life about those things. Not even when I have a lot does my life become what I have. Think about how Jesus words this: not even when… In other words, my possessions don’t make up my life when I don’t have much. Perhaps when striving just to survive daily or monthly my life can be seen to not be about my possessions. But even when I begin to acquire, or at whatever point I have a lot, even then my life is not about those possessions. So no provision for greed is left. But I think this also gives us a clue to who Jesus is intending this for, the lower class of free people.
The upward struggle, to make something of our lives while we have life, to leave something better for our kids, whatever it might be called, is not to be the focus of a life of a follower of Jesus. Worrying or focusing on what sort of life I will have at retirement is not what my Master wants me to be about. I was fine up to that point, about retirement, or preparing for the future. Keep in mind, He didn’t say, don’t prepare, not even later on in the chapter. But He is saying not to make that the focus of my life. In fact He’s saying to guard against the tendency to make that my focus.
I probably have more now than I have ever had in my life, by way of possessions. So now is also the time in my life I need this passage. I need this verse, and the following passages now more than ever in my life. Before, when I was making less than $20k per year, I may not have had time for this truth. Before when I was making middle income levels of pay, I remember wanting more so I wouldn’t be so stressed about every little expense. Now, I don’t worry about that, but I do want more stuff. All along the way I have been struggling with this, but not taking this charge to heart. I haven’t been guarding against my natural tendency.
Well, I see where I need to change. I need to be more on my guard against the desire to acquire more stuff for the sake of the other stuff. It can be tricky since some things can create a felt “need” to have something else to support the thing. I’m in that right now, and I need to consider what is motivating me, my stuff or my Master. I think I can make a case for my Master, but I’m tricky… And now I’m even more confused and stressed. Lovely. But my Master still loves me, and wants to use me for His purpose in His kingdom. Maybe the answer is to quit worrying about my own purpose and kingdom…
What do you learn from this verse?