In the book “The Pine Tree” by Rose Dobbs, there is a story about a pine tree that is lonely and sad because it is the only tree around with long needles instead of green leaves. It wishes to be important and noticed among the other trees in the forest. Thinking it costs nothing to wish, the pine tree wishes for gold leaves. And lo, the next morning his branches are full of shining gold leaves. However, they do not last long. A poor peddler comes along and thinking he has been blessed with the discovery of a treasure; he picks every single one of the leaves. The pine tree is devastated wishing that he had beautiful but less valuable leaves he envisions himself with glittering glass leaves. Which is what he has when he wakes in the morning. And do they shine in the sun! But near evening a storm comes up. The wind blows, and soon the pretty glass leaves are broken on the ground. Shivering in the cold wind the pine tree wishes for plentiful, lush green leaves like his neighbor trees. And in the morning he is full of such leaves….until a goat comes along and eats them all. “Oh, my!” exclaims the tree. “I wish I just had my plain old needles back. I should never have wished to be more important than the other trees in the forest! ” And by next morning his needles have returned. The birds are asking to build nests in his branches because they can be hidden by his needles. And the little pine tree welcomes them vowing to be happy and useful with all that he is. And we could add, all that God created him to be!
“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Luke 12:15
According to the dictionary, Covetousness means: feeling or showing a very strong desire for something that you do not have and especially for something that belongs to someone else. It has the additional meaning of being marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another’s possessions as well as having a craving for possessions. The man in the story was suffering for covetousness for sure but what about us? Have we ever been guilty of this?
It was common for the people of the time of Jesus to bring their disputes to trusted rabbis for a decision. As we see in this story today, Jesus refused to get involved in people’s disputes about money, but he uses the opportunity to enlighten his Apostles on what their attitude towards material possessions should be. He has something to say to not only those who have an abundance of possessions but also to those who have few.
To those who were listening that had an abundance of possessions he told them the parable of the rich fool. We just heard this story. In the story, the man has been blessed with more crops than he can possibly store in the barns and other builds that he has. His solution is to pull down those barns and build bigger ones. He builds the bigger barns and stores all he has and feels pretty good about what he was able to accomplish. Then an angel comes and tells him that this night he is going to die. All that work was for nothing.
Two things stand out in this story. He never saw beyond himself. This parable, unlike the others that Jesus uses, is full of the words, I, me, my and mine. These are called aggressive pronouns. The rich fool in the story was aggressively self-centered. When this man had an excess of goods, the one thing that never entered his mind was to share them with others. His whole attitude was the reverse of Christianity. Rather than denying himself he aggressively affirmed himself; rather than finding his happiness in giving he tried to conserve it by keeping.
John Wesley’s rule of life was to save all he could and give all he could. When he was at Oxford University, he had an income of thirty pounds a year. He lived on twenty-eight, and he gave away two. When his income increased over the years to sixty, then ninety and then finally to one hundred and twenty, he still lived on twenty-eight, and he gave away the rest. The Romans had a saying that money was like sea-water; the more a man drank, the thirstier he became. As long as our desire is that of the rich fool, our desire will always be to get more – and that is the reverse of Christianity.
The second point is that he never saw beyond this present world. All his plans were based on his life here in this world. The one who never remembers that there is another world is destined some day for the grimmest of grim shocks. We spend far too much time storing up things in our existing barns and not worrying at all about what comes next.
But Jesus also has something to say to those who have few possessions. The one thought that Jesus forbids in this passage is an anxious thought or worry. Jesus does not want us to live a shiftless, wild life. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable in our life. What Jesus said was do your best and leave the rest to God. This takes great faith. Just like the prayer discussion we had last week, not worrying about the future takes enormous faith.
Jesus said, “seek first the kingdom of God.” We pray in the Lord’s prayer that God’s kingdom was a place on earth where his will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven. So what Jesus is saying here is that our lives need to bend, not to our will, but to obeying God’s will and that we need to rest easy and be content with that will for our lives.
So many people work for things and heap up things that by their very nature will not last. Rust and mold will get to them, and they spoil. Just like last time when we spoke about the manna that God provided to those in the wilderness. They were only to gather what they needed if the gathered more it spoiled.
Work for things that will last forever, things that you will not leave behind when you leave this earth, but the things that you can take with you.
If we clothe our souls in the garments of honor and purity and goodness, nothing on earth can take that away from us. If we seek the treasures of heaven, our hearts will be fixed in heaven; but if we seek the treasures of earth, our hearts will be tied to this earth – and one day we will have to say goodbye to them for as the Spanish proverb says: there are no pockets in a shroud.”