Colossians 3:1-11/ Psalm 107/ Luke 12:13-21
Abandoning Greed… for Control
Financial Planning and Taking Control
Today, I am going to start by bragging about my husband. One of the many clues that he and I are compatible is our belief in how to handle money. I grew up seeing my parents leading a frugal lifestyle while saving for the future and their children’s education and giving to charity. Now, my husband is in charge of managing our money and savings account. He even sits me down for a monthly financial report.
But the purpose of my story is not in bragging about my husband but to start our reflection on control; more specifically, letting go of our need to take control. Setting budgets and saving money is about taking control of our lives so we won’t be surprised by suddenly going bankrupt or something. It is a wise thing in general to take control of our lives by making plans and taking certain actions.
However, as Christians, we should also learn to let go of our need for control to trust God. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.” We all experience it. I have experienced it. Becoming a pastor was not one of my “50 possible things to do when I grow up” list, yet here I am! Our faith requires us to sometimes let go of our need for control.
Parable of the Rich Fool
We read the Parable of the Rich Fool. The moral of this story is clearly stated at the beginning. As the Good Samaritan story was the response to the question, “Who is my neighbour,” this parable is a response to someone’s request for Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possession.”
Then he told the parable of a rich man who produced abundantly and thinks of building a bigger barn to store all his possessions to live comfortably and enjoy life. This man forgets the fact that God might take him that very night in which case he can’t take his possession to the grave. The obvious moral of the story is the warning against material greed, but there is a less obvious moral with which Jesus ends this story: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Being rich toward God is the same as when Jesus said, “one cannot serve two masters, God and money,” or “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The parable we read today is one of the many episodes in which Jesus teaches us to value things that belong to God instead of obsessing over our mortal world.
Warning Against Greed for Secular Things
Today’s lesson in Colossians also warns us against greed for secular things, things that are not compatible with God’s values. We are to clothe ourselves with the new self according to the image of our Creator. Being in the image of God and imitating our teacher Jesus mean we make sure our values are compatible with God’s. As I keep mentioning over and over again, God’s reign (or kingdom) operates on the principle of love based on equality and justice. Our commitment to follow Jesus and becoming a new person comes with our commitment for the works of justice.
Letting Go of Control
Today’s lesson is a warning against greed, but the underlying aspect of greed is our desire to take control. We are all control freaks to a certain degree, with some more than others. This is where greed and works of justice intersect. Focusing on the things that belong to God includes giving up control; giving up control of always being right, giving up control of always seeing my ways being done in the world, and learning the humility to embrace those who are different or who think differently than us.
Us giving up control as Christians is so that God can take control of our lives; this is what we usually learn from the church. But this cliché Christian teaching is not today’s focus. Today, we are connecting two things; giving up greed and control and our call to focus on things that belong to God’s reign.
Deny Yourself, Pick Up Your Cross, And Follow Christ
I mentioned that following Jesus requires us to make sure our values are compatible with God’s. Considering that God’s reign is about love, equality, and justice, our values must reflect the spirit of justice. Jesus said, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.”
Picking up one’s cross, for the first Christians meant risking persecution and death. But since we live in an age and country where our religious rights are not persecuted (and on the contrary, there are a lot of Christians who use their faith to persecute others), our ways of picking up our crosses should be different. We should give up control with humility. What does this entail, you might ask?
It means treating all God’s people with compassion and work for a society in which everyone lives with the same rights and dignity. Even if you feel uncomfortable with people who belong to different ethnic groups and have difficulty understanding their cultures, you consider them beloved people of God anyway. Even if you feel uncomfortable seeing two men kissing, you consider their love as equally valid and beautiful as your relationship. Even if you feel uncomfortable calling a gender non-binary person “they” and “them”, you put in the effort to make them feel respected. Even if you feel uncomfortable with transgender people, you respect them and their gender identities anyway. Following Jesus requires us to choose to do even uncomfortable things for justice. It requires us to humbly give up control to be always right and have our ways be done in the society.
They say, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” The humility of God’s reign doesn’t condone marginalizing and oppressing people who don’t live by our ways. Following Jesus involves not imposing our beliefs and ways on the rest of the society. We cannot always agree with everyone or share the same beliefs, but we are taught by Jesus to love everyone and respect their beliefs anyway, unless their beliefs are bigotry and hate.
Our God that today’s psalm praises saves the marginalized, hears their cries, and delivers them from distress. If we believe in this God, it is only right for us to do the same. Let us give up greed and our need for control. Let us learn humility and compassion from Jesus, and love all God’s people with God’s unconditional love. Let go of control and trust God. Let go of the need to always be right and comfortable, and let God change you to be more compassionate, generous, flexible, and understanding.