The Rev. Garfield Wu
A sixth-grade teacher posed the following problem to one of her arithmetic classes: “A wealthy man dies and leaves ten million dollars. One-forth is to go to his wife, one-fifth is to go to his son, the other one-fifth is to go his daughter, one-sixth to his nephew, and the rest to charity. Now, what does each get?”
After a long silence in the classroom, one little fellow raised his hand. With complete sincerity in his voice, he answered, “A lawyer.”
He’s probably right. Most of us are quite serious when it comes to money.
It is estimated that 40% of the marriages that fail are the result of conflict over finances. Colleges report that students today are flooding into the areas which have the potential to make bigger money after graduation. Newspapers are devoting entire sections to the subject of money. Young couples are being urged to sit down with a financial planner early in their marriage and map out a strategy for achieving their financial goals. Children are being trained to use their pocket money wisely since very young. Of course, some persons are concerned about money almost to the point of desperation.
Here I want to share two true stories with you,
The first one tells about a man named Adolf Merckle. In 2007 Merckle was the 94th richest man in the world. He was the richest man in Germany, with a net worth of $12 billion. He owned the largest pharmaceutical company in Europe. He also had interests in manufacturing and construction. He took great pride in his accomplishments. But then he made a big mistake.
In 2008 he decided to make a bet in the stock market. He was so certain that stock in Volkswagen was going down, he decided to short the company. Just one problem: Porsche made a move to buy Volkswagen, and the stock price shot up, not down.
Almost overnight, Merckle lost nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars.
To make matters worse, he desperately needed some cash to pay off a huge loan. But this was in 2008. Some of you will remember that the year 2008 saw the worst global economic disaster since the Great Depression. Banks weren’t loaning money to anyone—even billionaires.
“When he realized he’d lost a total of $3 billion and was no longer the richest man in Germany . . . [Merckle] wrote a suicide note and walked in front of a speeding train. That’s right. He killed himself. In a tragic irony, his family discovered only a few days later that the loans he sought had come through, and his companies were saved.” (1) He was still a very wealthy man, but his obsession with wealth cost him his life.
The second one is the story of junyaowang when I was staying in Shanging…..
“But 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?’
All of us are concerned for one reason or another about money. Jesus knew that. It was no different 2,000 years ago. That’s why he had so much to say on the subject. Money is an important part of our lives. Indeed, Jesus noted that we will control our money or it will control us. It will either be a blessing to us or a curse.
Our lesson for today begins with someone in the crowd saying to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” That’s interesting. Instead of going to a lawyer or a judge he went to Jesus for advice.
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And then he told a story about a rich man whose land brought forth so bountifully that he didn’t know what to do with the surplus. Most of us would like to have a problem like that, wouldn’t we? The man resolved his problem this way, “I will pull down my barns,” he said, “and build larger ones; and there I will store all of my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink be merry.”
You know the conclusion of the story. That very night God came to him and called him a “fool.” Why? “This night your soul is required of you,” said God, “and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Then Jesus adds, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Isn’t it interesting that God should call him a fool—not a sinner, not a reprobate—but a fool? We have to be very careful here. Scholars assure us that parables are designed to make only one point. But the term “fool” suggests all sorts of things to me. Probably not all of them relate to this rich man, but they do relate to some men and women I have known. Let’s think of some reasons God may have called him a fool.
First of all, God may have called him a fool because he paid too high a price physically, emotionally and spiritually for his great wealth. What good is a bank full of money if your health is gone, if the people you love turn their back on you, if you are not right with God? That could certainly be one reason God would call him a fool. People have been known to sacrifice their health, their marriage, their relationships with their children, their respect and reputation in the community—people have been known to create all kinds of havoc in their lives in the race to grab the almighty dollar.
This man was, at the least, meeting his maker far sooner than he had expected. It is obvious that he thought he had many years left. Maybe, as we sometimes say, he worked himself to an early grave.
Eric Butterworth, in his book Unity of All Life, tells a somewhat complicated but very revealing story about two men. It is a fictitious story, but if you will follow me, I think the story will appeal to you. As I have already noted, it is about two men.
One was very wealthy but in poor health. The other was quite robust health-wise, but very poor financially. The two men were envious of one another. The wealthy man would have given anything for a healthy body. The poor man would have given anything to be rich.
There was a world famous surgeon who could give them both what they longed for. He had perfected a technique for doing brain transplants and these two men were the perfect candidates. The wealthy man gave the poor man all of his wealth for the poor man’s robust body by just swapping their brains.
But this is not the end of the story. The operation was a complete success. Now the formerly poor man was surrounded by wealth, but he did not know how to use it. He squandered it on both foolish pleasure and bad investments. Soon he was poor again.
However, the sickly body that he had received in the brain transplant became healthy again because he was not burdened with stress and anxiety.
Meanwhile the formerly wealthy man with his new robust body began to accumulate wealth again because he knew the principles for making money and he exercised discipline in his spending. Soon he was wealthy again, but the stress and anxiety that he subjected himself to in making that money took its toll on his body. Soon he was racked with aches and pains.
So, both men ended up back where they started—one wealthy with a sickly body; the other financially impoverished but with excellent health. (2)
I like that story. There is so much of real life in it. Maybe the rich man in our parable was so obsessed with making money that he sacrificed his health or something equally as important to obtain it. That would make him foolish, wouldn’t it? That is one possibility. Maybe he paid too high a price physically, emotionally and spiritually for his great wealth.
There is a second possibility. Maybe the rich man had put off living until it was too late. There is a little trilogy that is so appropriate here. It goes like this: making a living, making a killing, then making a life. That is the way many people perceive the progression that life must take. At first we are satisfied with just making a living. But as our income rises, so do our perceived needs. We need a bigger house, a more luxurious car, a better school for the children. We must have hundreds of channels on our television and Netflix and Amazon Prime for streaming material online—all in glorious High Definition. The more we have, the more we seem to need. So we have to increase the financial goals we once set for ourselves. We want the kind of life “so worldly, so welcome” as the MasterCard commercials used to say.
That means that it is not enough to make a living. We need to make a killing. We make more than what we need for a living, sometimes we call it “making a better life”, but many people who are doing his have the feeling of short of money always, feeling being behind of the debt or our desires…we are busy of making more money…Someday when the children are grown, and the mortgage is paid, and all of our goals have been reached, we will think about making a life. But what if it is too late when we finally get around to making a life? Wouldn’t that be sad? Wouldn’t that be foolish?
Pastor Samuel tells about a friend of his, a woman, who is a recovering alcoholic. They went with a group on a mission trip to Honduras. This trip changed this woman’s whole perspective on life. She said to Samuel, “I’ve always felt poor since I lost my big four bedroom house in a divorce. Then I came to Honduras and saw how the victims of Hurricane Mitch were thrilled to have these two-room houses that we were building there.” She said, “I came home to my 600-square-foot condominium and saw that I live in a palace compared to them.” She said, “I’m rich, and I never knew it until I went to Honduras.”
“She didn’t get rich by frugality,” says Pastor Zumwalt. “She didn’t get rich by having a sideline job. She didn’t get rich by winning the lottery. She got rich by visiting the Third World and seeing her life through new eyes. She was already grateful for her sobriety. Now she had new reasons to be grateful for being wealthy all along.” (3)
Our rich friend surveys all that he has and he says to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid away for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry . . .” It makes me wonder if he had put off living waiting for a tomorrow that never came. That would indeed be foolish. Here all these goods were laid up and somebody else would enjoy them.
There is a third possibility, of course. Maybe God called him foolish because he never understood how to get the most joy from his wealth. What could we do with our money that would give us the grandest feeling we have ever had? I sincerely believe that we could get more joy from life if we learned to take missions more seriously. We have so much. Others have so little. There is so much need in this world. The more luxuries that we have, the less they bring us happiness. That is what the research shows. But to know that we have made a real difference in somebody’s life—that could bring unimaginable joy. That may be the third reason God called him foolish. He may have never understood how his wealth could bring him the most joy by giving and helping other people who are in great needs.
There is a fourth possibility. It seems to be the one that Jesus had in mind. The rich man may have been foolish because he did not take into consideration his accountability to God. This seems to be the point that Jesus was making with this parable. Consider his concluding remarks: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Many people today are what I would call functional atheists. That is, they may believe in the existence of God, but it makes no real difference in the way they live their lives. They have no sense of their own personal accountability to God.
What does it mean to be “rich toward God?” Many believe that salvation is only by grace and not by works. We have a difficult time when it comes to personal accountability. Yet the scriptures are very clear. One day we will stand before God and give an accounting of how we used all our resources, including our financial resources.
God called the rich man a fool for several possibilities I just mentioned..Maybe he paid too high a price for his wealth. Perhaps he put off living until it was too late. It could be that this poor rich man never understood that money can never bring us joy until we use it to show love for another. Or it may be that he simply never realized that ultimately he was accountable for everything in his life—including how he used his money. Could you and I possibly be making the same mistakes? Perhaps it is not so much a matter of being sinful. Perhaps we are just being foolish.
After the lesson from Lord Jesus today. Here is the question I ask myself and each of you: do we understand the place of money in our lives. Would we say ourselves wise or foolish?