Oh Give Thanks To the Lord
Saint Luke 12:13-21
To the people whom he calls the “redeemed of the Lord”—to those rescued from sin and death, like you and me, the Psalmist declares, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Where true faith exists, so also will there be thanksgiving toward the Lord, our God, for faith sees and recognizes His abiding goodness and love for us in all things and compels the believer freely to acknowledge God’s fatherly divine goodness and mercy in responses of gratitude and joyful praise. Earthly governments may establish and declare a day of thanksgiving, such as we have tomorrow, but without faith in the hearts of those who observe it, the day is just another civic holiday—another three-day weekend.
With the faith that God has graciously given to us, dear friends, we are not only enlightened as to how all the gifts that God gives to us are to be received, that is, with a thankfulness of heart, it also opens up for us a right understanding of how best to use those gifts, which, I suppose, falls under the category of good works in the life of faith, or, as Saint John the Baptist puts it, “[Bearing] fruit in keeping with repentance.”
When asked what that means—when asked what such fruit born of faith is like, the Baptizer replies by saying, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” In giving you your daily bread, that is, all that you need for this body and life, God may also give to you more than you need—two tunics instead of just one, for example. He does this so that you may help your neighbour who is in need, of which there are indeed many. God gives daily bread to everyone, but because of sin in this world, not everyone has what God freely gives. Therefore, by faith, He opens your heart to see the needs of others and to act upon that knowledge in Christian love, as you are able.
In today’s Holy Gospel, we are given to see two individuals who are neither thankful toward God for what they have been given or have any interest in serving their neighbour in need. One is a fictional character featured in a parable told by Jesus—a rich landowner who has an abundance of worldly possessions; the other is a real life person who, it seems, is not rich and wealthy (as far as we know), but yet is the one upon whom Jesus bases His made up rich man of the parable. The real man is reflected in the fictional man in his greed and self-serving nature—in the sin to which he is bound and held captive.
The real person of our text, we are told, speaks up from a crowd of people before our Lord Jesus with a rather presumptuous demand. He says to Christ, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Now, from this brief statement alone, we might infer that the father of two sons has died, with one inheriting everything, and the other—this one in the crowd before Jesus—getting nothing at all. This, however, is very likely not how it was. Rather, according to the way things were done back then, the older son would have received the majority of the estate so that he could continue to care for their mother and for any unmarried sisters, and also for any servants that the family might have had in their employ. The younger son, while not receiving as much, would have received enough to take care of his needs. But for him, this evidently is not enough. And he wants Jesus to make his brother pay. Thus, it’s not because Jesus is uncaring toward someone in need that He answers, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” It’s because He knows that what prompts this man is not need, but greed—sinful desire, pure and simple.
Turning from the greedy and covetous man, Jesus addresses the entirety of the crowd before Him, saying to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” To covet is to have a strong desire to possess that which belongs to another. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments deal with the two aspects or components of this sin, the first being the desire to have another’s position or station in life and the second being the desire to have someone else’s possessions. In Ephesians 5, Saint Paul states that one who is covetous is an idolater and “has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” That’s a pretty strong and damning statement, but coveting, you see, places the object of desire ahead of God, in a place of greater importance and worth in the heart and mind of the one who is doing the coveting. It is idolatry, and that can indeed lead a person to forsake God and the salvation that He freely offers and gives in Christ.
The parable that Jesus tells to underscore the grave danger that comes from coveting involves a wealthy landowner whose fields yielded an amazing bumper crop. Now, before continuing with the tale, I want you to remember what I said about the daily bread that God gives. Sometimes He gives an abundance, like He did for this rich man of the story. And God gives this abundance for a good and holy purpose, so that those so blessed may be able to help their neighbour in need. But is this what the rich man in the parable does? No. He does not look upon this great blessing from God as an opportunity to help others, but only as a way to satisfy his covetous desires. He decides that rather than give to the needy from the excess of his harvest, he’ll tear down his barns that are too small and build larger ones, so that he can keep it all for himself. Then, as he says to himself, he can “relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But can he? Apart from what God decides for him that night, there would never be enough for one like him; there would always remain the desire to have more—to build larger and larger barns. That’s the way of the covetous heart.
Of course, this rich man would not live long enough to see his words spoken to himself proven false, for God that night, calling him a fool, requires of him his soul. Or, in other words, this rich fool dies and goes to hell because of his sin and unbelief. Jesus tells the crowd of people listening to Him that the same is in store for everyone who is an idolater like this rich fool was—everyone “who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
The rich fool of the parable forfeited his soul and eternal life because he did not see the wrong of his sin. There was no forgiveness for him because there was no repentance in him. He was content in his sin—comfortable and at ease because his sin had led him so far away from Him who is good, whose “steadfast love endures forever”—so far away that the bond of faith by which we have forgiveness and life and salvation was ripped apart so that it ceased to exist.
Jesus tells His parable of the Rich Fool as a cautionary tale—as a warning to all of us, because He knows that none of us are free from the sin of coveting and idolatry. Each one of you, dear friends, is an idolater at times. Each one of you is guilty of violating God’s First Commandment—probably more often than you realize. And the false god that is bowed down to at these times of sin and unbelief in your life is called Mammon, which we understand as being the things of this world that are loved more dearly than Christ our Saviour.
The answer to this grave problem is, of course, repentance—repentance and the forgiveness of sins that God freely gives in Christ our Saviour through His life sacrificed—His body given and His blood shed for you on Calvary’s cross. You receive this blessed forgiveness in your baptismal life, here in our Lord’s absolving Word and in His holy Sacrament of the Altar.
When Saint Paul speaks of the sin of coveting and idolatry in Ephesians 5, he says to turn away from it, as well as from all sexual immorality and impurity, and “instead,” he says, “let there be thanksgiving.” Isn’t this interesting! Thanksgiving to God is the antithesis, the direct opposite to these sinful ways, for when you are thankful to God, you are living in the abundance of His mercy and grace, truly repentant and receiving of His divine forgiveness in Christ, a gift that well surpasses anything that this sinful world may offer—a gift that no one need covet, for it is freely given.
You are so blessed, dear friends—we all are, for we have a loving heavenly Father, “who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,” and who, with Him—with our Saviour Jesus and the salvation that we have in Him—graciously gives us all things. As Saint Paul says, “Let there be thanksgiving!” Let us proclaim with the Psalmist now and always, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Amen.