On Eating, Drinking and Merriment

Text: Luke 12:13-21
Date: Pentecost XI (Proper 13) + 8/4/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, unless, that is, all He has to say to us is judgment and bad news! Did you notice the oxymoron [pronounced by William F. Buckley, Jr, “awk-sim-er-on”], the seeming contradiction after reading today’s Gospel to then proclaim, “this is the Gospel of the Lord”? There seems to be very little if any “gospel” in today’s Gospel! In fact, taken together with the accompanying reading from Ecclesiastes—“All is vanity,” “unhappy business,” “I hated all my toil”—this has turned into a rather depressing day.

But I would have you notice that “not all is lost” even in our text. For the gospel does show up in two ways. First the conclusion to Jesus’ parable of being “rich toward God” points to the gospel. But even earlier, in the parable of the rich man itself the gospel is in the plentiful produce as gift of God. The problem was that the man failed to recognize or acknowledge that his productive crops were, even for all his labor and work, still gift of God. “Give us this day our daily bread.” What does this mean? God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. Such appreciation and thanksgiving should then spill over into generosity also for our neighbor.

On the one hand we hear the preacher of Ecclesiastes say, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” This is the proper attitude toward God’s gifts. On the other hand when the man in the parable says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry,” he was being foolish. What’s the difference?

It was just some unnamed person in the very large crowd that was following Jesus that day who asked Jesus a question. It was common to ask a Rabbi or teacher to interpret and apply the Torah, God’s Word, to specific cases. Our little catechism does this too. The Ten Commandments direct us to both a God-pleasing relationship to God and to our neighbor. They speak of family, father, mother and children. They speak of not harming but helping our neighbor. Possibly the most unpopular Command in our country today is that dealing with leading a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do. They speak about money and honesty. The Lord’s Prayer talks about the pure teaching and hearing of God’s Word and leading godly lives “here in time and there in eternity.” So our anonymous inquirer was simply asking Rabbi Jesus for the proper understanding of inheritance rights.

Numbers 36 says that an inheritance must be kept in the immediate family. Deuteronomy 21 lays down the principle of the inheritance rights of the first-born son. And in Numbers 27 the Lord addresses the inheritance situation when a person has no sons but only daughters. But there was a more important issue to be addressed in answer to the man’s question. Jesus responds, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” The man wanted someone to divide the property between himself and his brother. Jesus didn’t come to divide anything or anyone. He came rather to reconcile, to bring together people first in their relationship with God and then also with one another. He would soon say that His call would have the effect of dividing even families (Luke 12:51-53), not over purely worldly disputes, however, but over saving repentance and faith.

The larger issue was that of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments, “You shall not covet.” “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” This is probably the second most unpopular Command today. Covetousness is among other things that disfigure a person’s attitude toward life, that confuses as to which things are more important than others. When one cannot figure out which things are more important than others the result is not “vanity of vanities…all is vanity,” that nothing is important. Rather, the result is that everything becomes a life and death issue. Consider the squabbles that you hear about when an inheritance of a deceased relative is in question!

As we said, in the parable the man’s covetousness blinded him to how his plentiful production of crops were, first and foremost, not his own accomplishment but primarily the gift of God. Someone has observed how the middle letter in the word sin is “I.” Listen to the man’s self-praise: “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops…. I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will says to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” Did you count them? Six “I’s” and five “my’s.” The result? The most important thing in which his life consists? “Relax, eat, drink, be merry.” The “wisdom” of this world puts together the saying of the preacher of Ecclesiastes with the words of Isaiah 22:13, so that it comes out, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

But what about that? What about…death? “Fool” says the Voice from above. It is, after all, in the words of Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3; Psalm 53). “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.” What about death? You sin, you die. You don’t sin, you don’t die. “All have sinned,” therefore all die (Rom 5:12). This is the just and righteous judgment of God, the Creator and Giver of every good and perfect gift. Therefore it is His right to demand back what He has given. And as for the “things,” “whose will they be?” Well one thing for sure, they won’t be yours any longer! Righteous Job had it right when he confessed, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

So what about your things? What about your awareness that apart from God you cannot only do but even have nothing (John 15:5). There is nothing wrong with relaxing, as long as it’s not relaxing obedience and faithfulness to God’s Word. There is nothing wrong with eating or drinking (everything in moderation, of course) as long as it is with thanksgiving to God who provides seed to the sower and bread for food and wine to gladden man’s heart. There’s nothing wrong with being merry, with enjoying the life and health and daily bread, family and friends, vocation and avocation as long as they don’t become the sole content and purpose of life.

“Take care and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus and only Jesus came that you may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). That life does not end and is not annihilated by death. Rather it is abundant, that is endless, eternal. For the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, His life, His blood, now covers you and gives you forgiveness of sins. “You don’t sin, you don’t die.” Or, how did Jesus say it? “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, an is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…. For an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25, 29).

God’s great love for you becomes your highest good and puts everything else in life in its proper perspective. “So is the one who is…rich toward God;” rich in faith, hope and love; love for God and a love for neighbor that shares of the abundance God has given you. “To be rich toward God is to believe that God is the giver of all things, including life and salvation. To show that one believes is to share with others the gifts God gives” (Art Just, Luke 9:51—24:53, p. 507). This is the Gospel of grace, this is the Gospel of the Lord.