The story Jesus told of the rich man in Luke 12:16-21 is ageless and simple. A wealthy man has a bumper crop and tears down his old barns to build bigger ones, store his surplus and kick back with a whiskey. But suddenly, just as he was set to enjoy his new prosperity, he died.
Jesus told the parable to warn against greed.
And Jesus 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.” (Luke 12:15)
Greed hides so easily behind the mask of virtue and good reasoning. “I’m doing it for the kids”, “Hey, I’m just working hard, isn’t that a good thing?”
The guy in the parable was hard-working and appeared to be blessed. He had not made his money by taking advantage of people. He had not defrauded His neighbour. His profit was lawful gain. He had not been lazy. He had done well for himself and his family.
But Jesus says, “Take care … be on your guard.”
Be on guard against what?
In this verse, the word covetousness means, “a greedy desire for more.”
Greed, as opposed to simply making wise business decisions, misinterprets the meaning and purpose of life. Jesus prefaced the parable by saying, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Greed says that life is about exactly that. Having more.
In writing about the materialism of our culture in his excellent book, A Hunger for More, Laurence Shames writes,
A certain line gets crossed. People look to their goods not just for pleasure but for meaning. They want their stuff to tell them who they are.
We buy our clothes or our watches because we want those accessories to describe who we are to the world. We want everything from our cars to our holidays and our Akubra hats to define us.
This is not living. This is greed – and it is ugly.
The antidote? Death. A thorough-going death. A death that enables us to identify with – and get our identity in – Jesus.
And so Paul,
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
The problem with greed is that the things that greed wants are more likely to sink us than satisfy us. And the only way to tackle this pervasive sin is by confronting it, one temptation at a time.
The next time you feel tempted to define your look, your status or your reputation with a pair of Ariat M5 Carson Stackable Straight Leg jeans, kick your Ariat envy in the teeth and choose a pair of equally sturdy skinny stretch denims instead.
You might not be invited to the rodeo, but you’ll be comfortable.