The farmer in Jesus’ parable have you ever felt sorry for him? I mean what is a man to do? He’s worked hard, he’s been efficient, he’s had a bit of good luck, and what do you know it? This year the harvest is incredible.
What would Jesus have him do? Let all the food go to waste in the fields? No surely building bigger better barns is the responsible reaction to this overflowing harvest. It gives him security. No more fear about poor harvests in future years. This year’s excess will tide him over.
So what’s so bad about building a bigger barn to cope with your overflowing harvest? Let’s leave our first century Jewish farmer and let’s go back one and half millennia – let’s go back nearly to the beginning of the story. Let’s travel south from the lush Jordan valley to the arid wilderness between Egypt and Israel. And there we meet a motley band of nomadic desert tribes; the descendants of freed slaves.
And the God who led them into freedom; the God who is forming them into a nation is a God who is leading them to a Promised Land.
‘When the LORD your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers’ God says in the book of Deuteronomy, to this desert people, ‘when He brings you to a land with … wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, out of slavery.’ (Deuteronomy 6:10ff)
‘And when in this land you are harvesting’ says God, ‘and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow… When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.
When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Never forget that once you were slaves in Egypt. This is why I command you to do this.’ (Deuteronomy 24:19ff)
Leave sheaves in the field? Wouldn’t you be tempted to protest? Leave olives on the branches? Leave grapes on the vine? Leave them for others to pick up? Just give them away? But the harvest is mine. The harvest is mine.
‘Oh the harvest is yours is it?’ says God, ‘Remind me – why is it you live in this rich fertile land and not in a wilderness? That was your doing was it? The rich soil, the sun, the rain that was all your doing was it? You earned your abundance – is that it? And that’s why you can’t spare even the excess for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.’
You see that’s where the rich man in Jesus’ parable begins to go wrong. ‘The ground of a certain rich man’ says Jesus, ‘yielded an abundant harvest.’
The ground yielded an abundant harvest. One year he was extremely fortunate. The ground yielded an abundant harvest. Rain, sun, and rich soil and this one year - a bumper harvest.
A gift. Unearned abundance. Poured into his lap and overflowing. More grain than he knew what to do with. Well what is a man to do?
Laugh and sing and thank God and fill his barns and shout at the top of his voice, “God has given me more than I could ever know what to do with. My barns are overflowing with – come please – help yourselves.”
What would Jesus have him do?
Let the food rot in the fields? No
Feel guilty that in a world of want he had excess? No
What would Jesus have Him do? Thank God for his undeserved good fortune and to be generous and open handed and lavish in sharing the excess with others.
Because remember : if good fortune is undeserved then so is bad fortune.
‘Remember the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow,’ says God, ‘Never forget that once you were slaves in Egypt. This is why I command you to do this.’
Never forget. Comfort ease excess: they can make you forget.
‘When you eat and are satisfied,’ says God, ‘be careful that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of slavery.’
In his comfort the farmer forgot. He thought he’d earned it. And he forgot God altogether.
‘Take life easy’ he tells himself, ‘you have plenty laid up for many years.’
‘I am now secure and master of my own destiny’ thinks the farmer. ‘Safe from all disaster.’
‘You fool!’ says God, ‘For tonight happens to be the night you will die. And then what have you prepared for yourself?’
Well so much for the farmer in Jesus’ story - evidently a very wealthy man - but what about us? What does Jesus have to say to us?
Do you know sometimes I think like the farmer I’m prone to forgetfulness? But occasionally I remember.
Maybe I’m sitting having a coffee in the sunshine outside Beans looking at the Georgian architecture of our beautiful town. Or maybe I’m enjoying the peace in a boat paddling down the River Nene. Or maybe I’m sitting sipping a glass of wine chatting to friends as I watch Daniel and Samuel play cricket on a Wednesday evening.
Or maybe it is simply that I remember that I live in a house where my children each have a room and there are rooms to spare. Children who don’t work for a living but receive an education.
And on my driveway stands a car. And behind my house is a garden not filled with crops but with flowers just for enjoyment. And when I turn on a tap pure drinking water gushes out. No muddy water lugged from far off wells for me. Pure water that I can pour by the gallon into a bath tub and lounge in. Water I can pour away onto flowers.
And cupboards packed with food and wardrobes full of clothes. And tomorrow a holiday; days of ease without work no need to labour to keep my family alive.
For the vast number of people on earth mine is a life of unimaginable luxury. Unearned abundance poured into my lap and overflowing. What did I ever do to deserve being born in Britain in the twentieth century? A land of education and ease and comfort.
Imagine if you earned £13 000 per year. Maybe some here earn more maybe some less. Just over £1000 a month. Well if you earn £13000 per year - and many earn considerably more - you are in the top 5% of the world’s most wealthy people .
Of course it’s not always as easy as all that sounds. We live at a time of financial stress and worry. But let’s make no mistake about it. Generally speaking we are a people amazingly privileged in human history; amazingly privileged among the people of today’s world.
Well what would Jesus have us do about it? Feel guilty that in a world of want we live in excess? No
No. I think He wants us to thank God for our undeserved good fortune and to be generous and open-handed and lavish in sharing our excess with others.
“God has given us more than we could ever know what to do with. Our barns are overflowing – come please – help yourself.” Lavish and generous in giving it away to people in need and to the organisations that help them.
Open-handed in sharing all that we have. Opening our homes – sharing our possession holding lightly to what we have.
Remembering the generosity of a God who gives all things - who for us gave up all things - and seeking to follow Him.