And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me …. And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth–(Luk 12:13-15)
What Jesus Did When He Was Interrupted
Jesus was often interrupted in His teaching, and some of the choicest sayings in the Gospel spring from these interruptions of the Lord. When we are interrupted at our work or play, you know how cross we generally are. But Jesus, in His perfect trust and wisdom, turned even His interruptions to account. He had to stop preaching at Capernaum once when the paralytic was lowered through the roof. But instead of fretting, He so used the moment that the crowd in the cottage glorified God. And here, too, as He is teaching, He is brought to a halt by an unlooked-for question. Yet He so answers it, and uses it, and preaches such a memorable sermon on it, that I am sure there was not a disciple but thanked God for the unseemly interruption. Christ felt that not one man could interrupt Him, without the permission of His heavenly Father. It was that present and perfect trust in God that kept Him in His unutterable calm.
Where Was This Man’s Treasure?
While He was speaking, then, of heavenly things–of forgiveness of sins and of the Holy Ghost–and when He paused, perhaps, for an instant to see if Peter and John had understood Him, there came a grating voice upon His ear, “Master, speak to my brother that he divide the inheritance with me.” Now, whether this man was really wronged or not, it is of course impossible to say. And it was not that which stirred the wrath of Jesus–it was the betrayal of the speaker’s heart. A single sentence may be enough to reveal us. A single request may open our inmost soul. And here was a man who had listened to peerless preaching, and might have been carried heavenward on the wings of it, but the moment Jesus stops, he blurts out his petition, and his whole grievance is about his possessions. Does not that show what he was thinking of? Cannot you follow back the workings of his mind through these magnificent teachings that precede? It was that earthly mind that stirred Christ’s anger. It was that which led Him on to preach on greed. There was life eternal in the words of Christ; but this man, in the very hearing of them, could think of nothing but the family gold.
An Anxious, Selfish Fool
Then Jesus told the story of the rich fool, and as He told it His mind went back to Nabal (1Sa 25:1-44). For “Nabal” just means a foolish man, and as his name was, so was he. Like Nabal, too, this churl was not a badman. He had not stolen the wealth that was to wreck him. It was God’s rain that had fallen on his seed. It was God’s sunshine that had ripened his harvest. It was God’s gentleness that made him great. But for all that, his riches ruined him. He gave his heart to them: he gave his soul. Then suddenly, when he was laying his plans, and dreaming his golden dreams about tomorrow, God whispered, “Senseless! This night they want thy soul!” Who the they is–for so it reads in the original–we cannot say. They may be the angels of death; they may be robbers. In any case they are God’s instruments, and the rich man must say goodbye to everything. O folly, never to think of that! He had thought of everything except his God. “And so is he that layeth up treasure for himself, if he is not rich towards God.”
Now there are three things we must notice about this man; and the first is how very anxious he was. When we are young we think that to be rich means to be free from anxiety altogether. We can understand a pauper being anxious, but not a man who has great heaps of gold. But this rich man was just as full of cares as the beggar without a sixpence in the world. He could not sleep for thinking of his crops. That question of the harvest haunted him. It shut out God from him, and every thought of heaven, just as that family inheritance we spoke of silenced the music of Jesus for the questioner. Who is the man who we sometimes call a fool? It is the man with the bee in his bonnet, as we say. But better sometimes to have a bee in the bonnet than to have nothing but barns upon the brain. The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.
See next how very selfish the man was. Do we hear one whisper of a harvest-thanksgiving? Is there any word of gratitude to God? You would think the man had fashioned the corn himself, and burnished and filled the ears with his own hand, he is so fond of talking of my corn. Do you remember what we learned in the Lord’s Prayer. It is never my there, it is always our. And the Lord’s fool is at opposite poles from the Lord’s Prayer, for he is always babbling about my. And then were there no poor folk in his glen? Was there no Naomi in yon cottage in the town? Did not one single Ruth come out to glean when the tidings traveled of that amazing harvest? If the bosoms of the poor had been his barns, he would have been welcomed at the Throne that night. O selfish and ungrateful!–but halt, have I been selfish this last week? There are few follies in the world like the folly of the selfish man.
Then, lastly, think–and we have partly traveled on this ground already–think how very foolish the man was. Had he said, “Body, take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry!” there might have been some shadow of reason in it. But to think that a soul that hungers after God was ever to be satisfied with food–is there any folly that can equal that? “The world itself,” says James Renwick, “could not fill the heart, for the heart has three corners and the world is round!” Let us so live, then, that when our soul is summoned, we shall say, “Yea, Lord! It has long been wanting home.” And to this end let us seek first the kingdom. For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.