“On guard!” comes from the French world of fencing, but Jesus said it first. The NIV’s translation, “Watch out! Be on your guard!” is good. I would, however, emphasize the imperative in both commands. “You must watch out! You must be on guard!”
Against What? Lust, Gluttony, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride? Nope Greed. Note how Jesus says it: “On guard against all kinds of greed”. What? There are different types of greed? In America it’s hard to believe there is anything but one. 19th century French historian Tocqueville identified it over 180 years ago. After touring American he wrote, “I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men….” (Democracy in America, I, 51). And, “The love of wealth is…at the bottom of all that Americans do” (Ibid., II, 229).
The current Woke generation is proud to have seemingly broken with this American way. They’re content to work or not. They just want enough food, fun, and stimulation as they need to get by. But the great Green-Eyed Monster, Greed, comes in many forms. Eve was greedy to be wise like God. King Ahab had it all, but he was greedy for Naboth’s vineyard. David was greedy for Bathsheba’s beauty. Amnon was greedy for his sister and after he has her his hatred for her is greater than his greed for her had been (2 Sam. 13). That’s the thing. Greed is always illegitimate and as with all forbidden desires it can’t be satisfied. Steinbeck has a character observe, “There’s a capacity for appetite that a whole heaven and earth of cake can’t satisfy” (East of Eden, 182). The horror of the giant in Bunyan and the wicked witch in Lewis is that they give their victims food that causes greater hunger (Idols for Destruction, 107). The Romans had a proverb: “’money was like seawater; the more a man drank the thirster he became’” (Barclay, 164-5).
Even worse than this is the dog with the steak in Aesop’s fable, only when Green-Eyed Greed moves us to snap at the reflection of the steak in our mouth we lose not a meal, not our possessions, but our soul, our life, our self. This sticks out in the Greek of the parable. The word for soul, life, self is psych? . So it reads like this: “I will say to my psych?, ‘Psych? , you have much good things laid up for years many, rest, eat, drink, be merry,’ but God said to him, ‘Fool, this very night the psych? of you is (not will be as in the insert) required of you.’” The story that Alexander the Great ordered his funeral procession be surrounded by his amassed wealth but his hands open and empty to display you can’t take it with you is probably a modern fable. However, this is the point of the parable: "God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”
On guard! against all kinds of Green Eyed Monsters. On guard! against being NT Nabal’s. As there all kinds of greed, so there are all kinds of fools. Even popular songs know this. There’s “Chain of Fools”; “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”; “The Fool on the Hill” “What a Fool Believes.” NT Greek shows this too. There are 4 Greek adjectives for fool (Vine, 246): There’s a word meaning “without understanding”; there’s another meaning “dull, sluggish in character”, and another meaning “without discernment”. The word Jesus uses means “without reason.” That’s strange because the man seems so reasonable. An already rich man, sees a bumper harvest coming and calculates he has no place to store the grain so he doesn’t flood the market. He decides to tear down existing granaries, build bigger ones, and store his windfall. Then he’d have enough for the rest of his life. Then he can eat, drink, and be merry. But he forgot the last part of the unbeliever’s confession of faith, and in this he’s a fool: Unbelief says, “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (Is. 22:13; I Cor. 15:32). That’s the point of the bulletin cover. We may forget Death; Death never forgets us.
The rich fool is a NT Nabal named after the OT original. Nabal was oblivious to all the OT Christ, i.e. Anointed One, David, did for him. He refused to give David the honor, thanks, or offering due him and instead insulted him. David resolved to strike him dead but his wise, brave wife, Abigail, came and begged David to spare him, “May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name--his name is Fool, and folly goes with him” (1 Sam. 25:25). When she got back home she doesn’t tell Nabal anything because he had drunk a lot. We continue reading: “Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died” (37-38). Then who got all the sheep, fleece, wool and riches, he had accumulated?
Come let us not be unreasonable as Old and NT Nabal’s are. Come let us reason together. God redeemed you for more than this. Ps. 90 is the only one written by Moses. He saw over 600,000 of his contemporaries die over 40 years as chastisement for not believing the Lord could deliver the Promised Land to them. Moses certainly knew death, but he prays to the Lord, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). David prays the same: "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life” (Ps. 39:4). Greediness for more: more of this life, more of the power, things, pleasures of this life, is always the root temptation. How does that square with the Triune God’s conclusion in Gen. 3 “And the Lord God said, "The man has now become like one of Us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’" He redeemed us for unending zoe not more bios. I’ll explain.
On guard! I say against all kinds of greed, against being the fool, and on guard! against being an enfleshed soul. Scrooge and Gollum are enfleshed souls. “Citizen Cane” saying ‘Rosebud’ and Gordon Gekko saying, “Greed is right. Greed works” show one soul realizing it’s enfleshed and one not. And real people like Howard Hughes and Anna Sorokin are sad portraits of the enfleshed soul. That term comes from an 11th century archbishop of Bulgaria, Theophylact, “But the sinner who has enfleshed his soul….has prepared to render its division from the body most hard” (in Lenski, Luke, 690). God says to the Rich Fool, “This very night your soul is ‘demanded’ or ‘required’ from you. One Greek dictionary defines the word as “to ask back, demand back, exact something that is due (Thayer). This is Faustian not Christian. Theophylact goes on to say that those righteous in Christ, those saved from their sins, their devils, and their death commend their soul even as their Savior did on the cross, “Father into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Lk. 23:46).
An impacted wisdom tooth is an enfleshed one. How difficult, how painful is the extraction of that tooth! Having just gone through this what sticks with me is the sound. I was numbed up and I had nitrous but I could hear everything. That scraping, tearing, grinding sound testified how enfleshed that tooth was. So, the enfleshed soul in the body. It’s the opposite of St. Augustine’s, “Our heart is restless till it finds it rest in God.” The enfleshed soul is not restless but embedded deep. It knows of no possibility of living outside this flesh and blood. So it doesn’t want to let go, but it must when God demands.
Jesus would loosen our enfleshed souls. Can’t miss that this is the point of Jesus’ sermon: He says, “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” You’re missing the point if you think this is only or even mainly for the rich. You can be dirt poor and still have an enfleshed soul. Such a soul belongs to anyone who geos to bed like this man. He went to bed each night right up till his last night with never another thought about what comes after this life. It’s not about how much you have or don’t but about thinking your possessions can give you life, can guarantee you go on living. True, your possessions can add to your bios, your physical, biological life, but Jesus says they can’t add to your z??.
We heard this truth expressed in the Epistle reading: Paul says, “For you died, and your z?? is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your z??, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4). Your bios is limited; you feel it ebb away as you age, get sick, get rundown. Not so your z?? . Christ took your death and gave you back z?? . You were born dying because you were born sinful. He entered into the virgin’s womb to redeem you from then on. He lived your bios greed free, sin free, guilt free, and then died the damned death you deserve. He won for you everlasting z??. It is hidden now in that Water back there; in these Words spoken here; and in the Body and Blood of Jesus that will be there. That z?? never ebbs, never runs down, but, and this is important, it’s only fully seen on the Last Day. Pauls tells us this: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life (z?? ) of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive (verb form of z??) are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life (z??) may be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:10-11).
What kills the Green-Eyed Monster Greed? Being rich in God. I know the majority of English translations have ‘rich toward God’ producing a plug-and-play stewardship sermon. AAT and NEB translate “rich in God” or “in the sight of God.” The danger to be avoided here is to go from thinking your riches keep you alive, as the fool did, to thinking being rich toward God will. Rich in God is what counts. After John D. Rockefeller died, a man was determined to find out the exact amount he left behind. He finally talked to one of Rockefeller's highest aides. He asked in breathless anticipation, "How much did Rockefeller leave behind?" The aide answered, "All of it." (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 238). And so will we one day leave all that goes with this bios, and take only what we have that has to do with zoe, real life. That is with Jesus, who reveals Himself as not only the way and the truth but also the life (zoe) (Jn. 14:6). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (20220821); Luke 12:13-21