An older man asks a young, ambitious one about his plans. "I'll get an education." "And then?" said the older man. "I'll start up a business." "And then?" "I'll make a fortune." "And then?" "I'll get old and retire and live on my money." "And then?" "Well, I suppose that some day I will die!" "And then?" was the last stabbing question (Barclay, Luke, 165). This text better not end with a question. So let's not ask "and then?" but instead say, "Thus"
Sic is the Latin word for "thus," and you find it in many Latin sayings. The first one we'll use in dealing with this text is Sic transit gloria mundi. The famed con man Charles Ponzi wrote that phrase on a legal tablet and handed it to reporters. Beginning in 1918 he promised investors 50% return in 45 days or 100% in 90 days. He paid off early investors from the monies of later investors. In 1920, though personally rich, he owed 7 million to investors that he couldn't pay. He was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison. As he was about to be led off to jail, he snatched a yellow legal pad from a reporter and wrote Sic transit gloria mundi. "Thus passes worldly glory" (Ponzi's Scheme, 288).
If a con man like Ponzi could know that, don't you think we should? The rich man in our parable is a fool because he didn't. He thinks that because he has accumulated lots to live on he therefore has a lot of time to live. He has given not one single thought to what happens after all his worldly glory passes away. And don't misunderstand here. It's not just ill-gotten worldly gain or glory that passes; it all does. While Charles Ponzi was definitely a crook, there is no indication in the text that the rich man in the parable was. There's no indication that he didn't help the poor; didn't put money in the offering plate. There's no indication that he wasn't meor you.
Cyril of Alexandria said that the rich man was a fool because he acted as if he could reap his life from the ground as he did his riches (ACC, III, 207). And the problem is, it's easy to be fooled that way. You can get bios from things but never zoe. Bios, hear again biology, is life which we live. Zoe is life by which we live. Jesus says, "A man's zoe does not consist in the abundance of his possessions," but his bios sure can (Trench, 338). Your doctor tells you, "You're as healthy as a horse." Your financial adviser says, "You have more than enough money." You are filled with bios all right enough to enjoy all the glories of this world, but all the bios in the world and the glories that go with it don't give you zoe. And without that when worldly glories and earthly bios pass away so do you.
Sic transit gloria mundi the soon to be imprisoned Ponzi scribbled, and in a truth is much stranger than fiction story the ship he attempted to flee back to Italy on was named Sic Vos Non Vobis. After serving 3 years in federal prison, Ponzi was tried in state courts where he was sentenced to 9 more years. Not being able to face prison again, he tried to flee the country on a ship named Sic Vos Non Vobis, "Thus Not For Yourselves" (Ponzi's Scheme, 306). A man who had conned so many out of their life savings for his own gain, a man who did as the rich man prophesied he would do, "Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry," boarded a ship named "Thus Not For Yourselves" to flee the country.
Seventeen times in this short parable the rich fool mentions himself. It's all me; it's all mine. He's the direct opposite of Christianity. Christianity calls us to deny ourselves. The rich fool doesn't deny himself, but affirms himself. He does what we are taught to do if we would seek worldly glory affirm ourselves. Our desires, our plans, our goals, they are to be our number one priority. The things of our bios with no regard to our zoe, the things of this world with no regard to the world without end, are to be our focus. It's ironic that the self-centered Ponzi thinks there is salvation for him on a ship named "Thus Not For Yourselves." There wasn't, but many still think there is for them in Jesus' final words about not being rich in self but in being rich toward God.
Well it's true that I do have a problem with being rich in self. I may not have my barns filled with grain, but I'm definitely a child of this age of self-affirmation and treasuring myself beyond all else. And that can only end in one place. In my soul being required, demanded, ripped out of this lump of clay. That's what the text says. It's all about our souls. The fool doesn't say, "I'll say to myself." No he actually says, "And I'll say to my soul, Soul you have plenty of good things for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.' And God says to him, "You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded from you."
At this point you can panic as Ponzi did and flee to the first ship going your way, and Jesus' words seem to be that ship. Doesn't He contrast being rich in self with being rich toward God? That's the answer that many find in this parable, but if I let you board this ship it will sink you. I haven't helped you at all if I've switched you from believing your riches can keep you alive to believing your riches toward God do. The Greek word here does mean toward' with verbs of going, sending, or moving. But it means with respect to' or with reference to' with a person or thing.
If you don't believe the grammar believe the context. In verses 22-34, which immediately follow our text, the point is not doing things for God but what God does so bountifully for you. And if you don't believe the context believe other translations. The Beck Bible translates "rich in God." The Amplified Bible "rich in his relation to God." J. B. Phillips, "Rich where God is concerned."
So this is what it comes down to. All worldly glories will pass away and though many try to flee on the ship of doing things not for themselves but for God that is no way to save your soul. What we must be is rich in God, and how can that happen? We had Sic transit Gloria Mundi, and Sic Vos Non Vobis, and we end with Sic enim dilexit Deus mundum. "Thus truly did love God the world." You recognize this in English as "For God so loved the world."
This mundum that is passing away with all its glories and with all the people tied to it, God loved. He loved the Ponzi's of the world who scheme to get it's riches and glories by hook and by crook. He loved the rich men who make their riches honestly yet foolishly think earthly riches translate into eternal life. He loved us who drop our guard against all kinds of greed and find ourselves at the mercy of that green-eyed monster before we know it. God so loved the world that He wasn't willing to let it be eternally separated from Him, so He reached out to it by coming into it as a Man.
Because God loved the world so much, the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, took on flesh and blood, and came visibly into this world. He was born into a humble home, with no place to lay His head as an adult. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."
No one is richer in God than God Himself and the Man in whom Scripture says "all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily." Only the God who is also Man can make men rich in God and He did this by becoming poor. Giving up the riches of heaven He lived a life under the poverty we deserve. Why do you think Jesus was hungry in the wilderness? Why do you think He was thirsty at a well in Samaria? Why do you think He had no place to lay His head? This isn't Law; this is Gospel. Jesus went through all this in our place. Rather than withholding food and drink, house and home from us as our sins deserve, God withheld them from His own dear Son.
In John 5:26 Jesus says it is given to the Son of Man to have life in Himself just as the Father has life in Himself. You guessed it; life here is zoe not bios. The Man Jesus has the life which money can't buy but we must have or we die forever. So you know what God the Father did? He beat that life out of His Son. That's not exactly true, is it? Jesus says He lays it down willingly. Jesus wants us to have this life that outlasts riches, outlasts worldly glory, outlasts the world. But in order to give this life to sinners the Son had to satisfy the wrath of God against sinners and pay for their sins. That's where the beating, whipping, nailing, damning, and dying comes in.
Every blow that landed on Jesus face paid for one more of your sins, every whip that lashed His back, every thorn that pierced His brow, every droplet of blood, sweat, and tears paid for yet one more of your sins, and because it is the bleeding, sweating, crying, and dying of God it was enough, more than enough, to pay for the whole world's sins. Now, as John 3:16 says, God gave His only beloved Son in order that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting zoe. The zoe that the Man Jesus had because He is true God has been bought and paid for, for you. That zoe is found by faith in the Waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, and in the Body and Blood of Jesus in Communion.
Being rich in eternal zoe our souls will never be demanded from us. How could they be? Those God has made rich in Him commend their poverty and wealth, their sickness and health, their body and soul to Him every single day. Historically the church confessed this truth by spontaneously standing up as the offering was brought forward much as a stadium full of people suddenly does the wave. By standing up the congregation was saying what's in those offering plate is just a token. What we're really giving is our soul, our life, our all.
"And then?" And then we die, and thus we pass away from this world, but when the one who is rich in God dies he doesn't leave his riches behind. No, thus he goes to them (Trench, 346). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (20130804); Luke 12:13-21