Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost | Luke 12:13-21
It is a double warning we hear—watch and keep guard! Jesus is warning, if not against accumulating wealth, at least against valuing it so very highly. We might imagine a circle filled with coins, and a line drawn through it. It’s odd. It was no doubt a strange warning for that first century audience to hear, perhaps almost as strange as it is for us.
Much of our culture seems centered on the accumulation of wealth. There are no reality shows about getting poor, no self-help books on not getting rich. Magazine covers picture the future to which we are supposed to aspire—more glamorous, more sexy, more wealthy.
There is another place, in Matthew, where Jesus summarizes his thoughts: wherever your treasure is, there is your heart also. It is another warning, as much as anything. Be careful what you treasure, for in choosing your treasure you give away your heart.
The rich man in the parable dies suddenly, unexpectedly. Death comes like a thief and demands his soul. Sometimes death is like that, slipping in as quick and as silent as a shadow, unnoticed in the noonday sun or blending into the darkness of night. Other times death comes like an army laying siege to a castle. Those within see their death coming, delayed, but inevitable.
In some ways death is like the kingdom of God as it is described in the gospels. The seed of our demise, the idea of our death, is already present within us, but has not come to pass. Like the kingdom of God, it is a thing that is both already becoming and not yet perfected, and we reflect on it, our personal eschatology of the soul.
Brevity. Transience. We want to ignore them, like children whistling past a graveyard. Yet no matter how well we build our houses, we cannot keep them. One day we leave them behind us, as legacy or ruin. Our monuments, our accomplishments, our piles of coins are all so transitory, but we work at them implacably, using them as blinders to keep us from seeing what waits in the edge of our vision.
Jesus built nothing. At least, he built nothing material that the gospels describe in any detail. We cannot go to Capernaum and find a museum with the brass plaque, ‘Home of Jesus of Nazareth.’ He built no businesses, held no patents, left no monuments. All that we have of his life are four gospels, second hand collections of his words and of the stories told by the people who followed him around, sometimes sleeping outdoors so as to stay near him, listening to him, watching him.
Of course, there is no greater legacy than that of Jesus. If the treasure he left shows where his heart was, there was only one thing Jesus treasured that could be touched—people. People, ideas, faith, but no one can lay a finger on faith or touch an idea.
We like to talk about the eternal. We talk about the future, a heaven we hope to see, one day. I wonder whether all of that is just a distraction, a way to diffuse the gaze of time. We do not rest easy in the present moment, the brevity of it reminding us of our own, but that is the key—presence. Now is all of eternity that we can truly comprehend.
This moment is an aspect of eternity, swirling past our feet like a wave returning to the sea, liquid treasure slipping through our hands.