Readings: 10th Sunday after Trinity
Posted: 26 Jul 2013 @ 00:02
Proper 13: Ecclesiastes 1.2,12-14, 2.18-23; Colossians
3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21
Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of
your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make
them to ask such things as shall please you; through Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
THE idea, in the collect, of the Lord's having merciful ears is
a rich one to ponder. What kind of ears do we think God listens
with? What other ears do people listen with? What kind of ears do
we listen with?
The prayer is predicated on mercy. The man who approached Jesus
did not obtain his petition, but Jesus's response was the result of
more merciful listening than he expected, or perhaps wanted.
Israelite inheritance practices were designed to keep family
land holdings as viable units. Land, therefore, normally passed
undivided to all the heirs. It appears that this father died
without leaving instructions about the inheritance, and one son
wanted to split it into independent units. This rare approach was
permitted only if the older brother agreed, indicating that this
man was a younger brother who was frustrated by his older sibling's
desire to keep the land, and thus the family, together. Jesus's
merciful ears heard undertones of a rift in family
By quoting what sounds like a wisdom saying about being on our
guard against all kinds of greed, Jesus went to the unspoken heart
of the issue. In refusing the man's request, he exposed some hidden
motives, and refused to collude with greed that could destroy a
family's relationships for generations to come. It was not the
answer that the man craved: in the words of a 1970s book title, it
was "a severe mercy"; but it was mercy, none the less, because
unchecked greed was in danger of destroying the family and
preventing his being "rich toward God".
The parable showed that Jesus grasped the potential of this
situation to engender loneliness. In the culture of the day, no
decision like this was made without hours of discussion with
family, friends, and neighbours. In contrast, this man "thought to
himself" about what to do. He was cut off from other people,
entirely self-sufficient and isolated. At creation, God had said:
"It is not good for man to be alone." Yet, by his wilfully
independent actions, this man was pursuing separation that was
contrary to God's good purposes.
So God called him a fool, putting him on a par with the fool who
says in his heart, "There is no God"' (Psalm 53.1). This headstrong
pursuit of self-sufficiency was essentially God-denying, as he
planned to eat, drink, and be merry for many years rather than
recognise that his life and death were in God's hands.
Luke sets this story soon after the parable of the Good
Samaritan, who used his wealth for others, and the petition in the
Lord's Prayer about trusting God for our daily bread. With this
juxtaposition, he set up a stark contrast with the selfish attitude
of the man in the parable who planned to use his wealth to make
It is a shame that the Gospel reading stops where it does,
because, tellingly, Jesus follows this condemnation of the man's
plans to build larger barns to store his food with commendation of
birds, who do not have barns, but trust God to feed them daily.
The disciples of Jesus were to learn from the example of the
birds, and to know themselves even more cared for than they. The
birds in my garden live with implicit trust that my purpose in life
is to keep them fed and watered; when I fill the feeders, they
tweet the good news of food so that others can share it too, while
a robin clearly thinks that I dig the garden solely to provide him
Living with trust like that, directed towards God, leads
disciples (then and now) to a radically trusting way of life which
does not attempt to secure the future solely through reliance on
amassed possessions. Possessions gratefully received and stewarded
need not stand in the way of our relationship with God, or indeed
with other people; but there is always that danger.
This difference in the foundational trust in our lives is about
being free to live vulnerably and trustingly, and thus, to be rich
towards God. These two men needed to be released from the grip of
their possessions and their greed. So the merciful answer to their
prayer was to refuse it in the hope they might learn to ask what is
pleasing to God.
The Lord has merciful ears.