Your Soul, Those Things: Whose Will They Be?

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And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:19-20).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
It’s quite embarrassing really. Jesus has just warned His disciples to beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He has encouraged them to not fear those who will persecute them. He has promised His disciples that those who confess Him before men will be acknowledged in heaven. And He has assured them that they need not worry how to defend themselves when brought before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, but that the Holy Spirit will teach them what to say.
Then some dunderhead in the crowd says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Notice what he does not say: “Teacher, my brother and I are quarreling and I’m afraid it is going to create a permanent break in our relationship. Would you please listen to me and to him and reconcile us?” No, instead he asks Jesus to mediate a family dispute as if Jesus is the local probate judge. The man is more concerned about his personal affairs than Jesus’ teaching. It’s as if he says, “Lord, thank You for Your wonderful discussion on the eternal consequences and rewards of confessing You as Savior, but I need You to go tell my brother to divide our inheritance so that I can get my share.”
But Jesus is a reconciler, not a divider. He wants to bring people together, not finalize separations. The man’s demand indicates that the split between brothers has already taken place in the heart, if not according to legal proceedings. The fact that it is a demand is also a red flag. Throughout His ministry, no one ever succeeded in giving Jesus the “right answer” and then pressing Him to accept it.
Jesus’ refusal confirms His indignation: “Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” On the surface, it may appear that Jesus wants nothing to do with this topic. At a deeper level, however, this question is ironic. Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus is called the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5). He is also described as the Judge of all mankind (John 5:26-29). So, Jesus in fact does judge and mediate—but not in the manner this guy requests.
Jesus isn’t there to divide the family farm; He hasn’t come for such temporal things. Why has He come? He has come to do what goods and grain, what relaxing and eating and drinking and merriment can’t do. He’s come with a kingdom and an inheritance that lasts forever. He’s come to save souls for eternity—and their bodies, too, as we’ll get to in a few minutes.
But this man’s appeal leads Jesus to speak on the subject it suggests to His present audience: “Take care to be on guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Covetousness can keep you out of the kingdom. Like its close cousin, greed, covetousness comes with a host of sins. Among these sins is the willingness to pursue things at the expense of others—two of the Ten Commandments warn that coveting is the opposite of love, wishing harm upon your neighbor. Worse though, is discontent: covetousness says, “What I have isn’t enough. I should have more. I want more. God is holding out on me.” The one who sins by coveting seems even sillier than the rich fool in the parable. At least the rich man said, “I trust in what I have to take care of my soul.” The one who covets says, “I trust in what I don’t have to take care of my soul.”
Possessions are tied to a deep, often irrational fear—the fear of one day not having enough. Regardless of how much wealth is squirreled away, this gnawing fear compels frail human beings like you and me to seek to acquire more. There is never quite enough because the insecurity within never dies. The answer to “How much is enough?” is always “A little more than I have right now.”
In good Middle Eastern fashion, Jesus follows this saying with a parable about surpluses, those blessings that go beyond our daily needs. If God is the owner of all things material and people are only His stewards, what rights do they have to the surpluses that God gives? Well-known responses to surpluses include:
Hide them. Flaunt them. Spend them on expensive vacations. Upgrade one’s lifestyle and they will evaporate. Buy expensive toys and go in debt. Buy more insurance. Pretend you are poor and just scraping by. Use them to acquire power.
What to do with the surplus? That is the question the man in the parable faces, and it’s also the question each (or at least most) of us face. It’s more than a matter of practicality, it’s really a matter of priorities, a measure of our faith, an indicator of how Christ and His Word is having its way with us.
The man in Jesus’ parable is already rich. Then his land produces a bumper crop. It’s an unexpected bonus. He does not have to work harder to produce this bounty, in fact he can’t. As most of you understand firsthand, a farmer can be diligent in working the ground, planting good seed, fertilizing, and applying the proper pesticides and herbicides, but the difference between an average crop and a “bin buster” is usually determined by factors that are out of his control—especially favorable weather. A good crop is a gift of God. So, the man faces an important, though certainly not drastic decision: What will he do with the abundant surpluses?
Literally, translated, the text says he “dialogued with himself.” This is a very sad scene. In the Middle East, people make decisions about important topics only after long discussions with their friends. Families, communities, and villages are tightly knit together. Everybody’s business is everybody else’s business. Even trivial decisions are made after hours of discussion with family and friends. But this man appears to have no friends. He lives in isolation from the human family around him, and with an important decision to make the only person with whom he can have a dialogue is himself. His only advisor is his own “soul.”
Perhaps you’ve seen this saying on a t-shirt or Facebook meme: “Of course I talk to myself! Sometimes I need expert advice!” It’s humorous in theory, but very sad in reality. Dangerous, too! I can tell you from my own experience: The worst decisions I’ve ever made happened when I did not ask anyone else for advice. But worse than that, I didn’t even turn to God in prayer. Oh, I made a show of prayer, but really it was me. I gave God the options that I had determined and then I told Him to show me the best one. I suspect He did answer my prayer by showing the best solution of the ones I proposed—but in the process I missed out on at least one better alternative. The words of Proverbs 12:15 ring true: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”

The Swiss artist Eugene Burnand brings this pitiful scene to life in a couple of drawings (I’ve included as bulletin inserts). If you look at the first picture, you will see that he draws the rich man as he has come to his decision. He has carefully recounted his gold and his silver, setting aside one sack after another. A certain amount that is to be used for other purposes is placed on a shelf above his head. The money that is to be used for the new buildings is stacked on the table before him. Now he leans back—furrows of thought on his forehead, a faraway look in his eyes—he is thinking of all the money and the work it will mean, all the new, fine, grand storehouses, full to overflowing with “all my grain and good things.” What a picture! But turn the page. There is the same man, cold in death, his hands crossed on his breast!
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “I’ve got more time than money.” Well, here’s a man who has more money than time. Lots more money than time. But soon, he will have neither. And then what will become of his money and barns and grain? Someone else with get them!
But there’s a more important unspoken question here. What will become of his soul?
Jesus, as only He can do, takes us inside the man’s heart and mind, letting us listen in to the man’s inner dialogue. The rich man asks himself, “What shall I do?” He has no place to store his abundance and sadly displays no awareness that his bumper crop is a gift from God or that he is responsible to use it as its owner might direct. Rather, he knows only my crop, my barn, my grain, my goods, and my soul.
Commenting on this parable, Ambrose, the fourth-century Latin theologian, astutely observes, “The things that we cannot take away with us are not ours… Compassion alone follows us.”[i] Augustine, Ambrose’s student, writes, “He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.”[ii]
The rich man has no one with whom to share his thoughts and ideas, and from whom he can derive some wisdom. He is all alone, thinking only for himself, thinking only of himself. “Soul,” he continues, “you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” His inspiration appears to come from a verse in Ecclesiastes that says: “And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (8:15).
This is a nice philosophy, but notice how the Preacher of Ecclesiastes is aware that “the days of his life” are a gift from God. Our rich man reflects no such awareness. He remembers the first part of this verse that tells him to “eat, and drink and be joyful.” But he conveniently forgets the latter part of “the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.”
Ibn al-Tayyib, in commenting on the rich man’s failing, observes:
“He imagines that a person created in the image of God can be fully satisfied with the food for the body, for he says ‘O Self, you have an abundance of goods, relax, eat etc.’ He imagines that the self is animal-like and that its highest pleasure and greatest form of satisfaction is eating and drinking.”[iii]
The Greek word here is psyche, often translated “soul” in English, carrying the meaning of a spirit that can be separated from the body. But behind this Greek word is the Hebrew nepes, which denotes the whole person. Using this same word, the psalmist notes that as the deer thirsts for water in the desert, his soul thirsts for God (Psalm 42:1-2). Not so the rich fool whose soul is fully satisfied with food and drink. His problem is a radical misunderstanding of the nature of the soul and a critical misjudgment in regard to what is needed to sustain the soul. Augustine is famous for saying “My soul is restless until it rests in Thee.” This rich man’s view is, “My soul is restless until I am assured of an overabundance of food and drink.”
Suddenly, God speaks: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” The man discovers that his soul and things are not his own. In the Greek text, the phrase, “your soul is required of you,” is the language of the return of a loan. This is one of the major, often hidden, truths of Scripture. Life is not a right but a gift—on loan from God who can call in that loan at any time. If God gives five days of life to a child, we mourn our losses and are grateful for those five days. We have no rights or expectations, neither for ten days nor for eighty years. Each day is a gift, and we praise God for it.  
Jesus closes by suggesting where true wealth may be found: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
L. T. Johnson notes:
“Wealth with respect to God has two levels of meaning for Luke: the first is the response of faith, the second is the disposition of possessions in accordance with faith, which means to share them with others rather than accumulating them for one’s self (see 16:9-13)”[iv]
To be rich toward God is to believe that God is the giver of all things, including life and salvation. To show that one believes is to share with others the gifts God gives. This is the consistent teaching of Jesus in His various words about possessions. Behind it is the Gospel of grace: forgiveness is bestowed as God’s free gift in Jesus Christ.
Yet a time of accountability will come when God will ask whether His free gift of forgiveness was appropriated through faith or was abused by the arrogant assumption that God’s gifts were personal possessions earned by one’s own efforts and therefore at one’s disposal to hoard or squander. Jesus shows us that covetousness is self-destructive. An obsession with money and/or things could eventually crowd God out of our hearts.
But Jesus doesn’t just show us our sin and leave us to deal with it. Jesus takes our sin upon Himself and carries it to the cross to pay for it. There on the cross, God the Father required Jesus’ soul, His body, His life to redeem a world of sinners, and He gave it up willingly. There, on Calvary, Jesus exchanged His selfless love for our greed and covetousness. He who “was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. And now all those things He prepared are yours and mine, including forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
Ascended into heaven at God’s right hand, Jesus shares His inheritance with you and me. He keeps His promises to be with us always to the end of the age in His Word and Sacraments. Happily, Jesus’ Gospel changes our hearts. Where His Spirit has its way, Jesus is recognized as the source of life and goodness, and He alone provides the ultimate satisfaction, lasting joy.
It’s good to be here today. It’s good that the Lord has seen fit to give us another day. May we always remember that everything we have is a gift from God, every day, every hour, every minute is a precious gift of God. If not for His providence we would not have this day, let alone tomorrow or many years.
That’s why I find it so helpful to begin each day with making the sign of the cross and saying Luther’s morning prayer:
I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.[v]
Commending yourself, your body and soul and all things, into the hand of the Lord, acknowledges what is true already—everything you have is the Lord’s! As you confess this truth, you are no longer laying up treasure for yourself, but are being rich toward God.
To be rich toward God is to be rich in the treasures of God—the gifts that He provides you through His Word and Sacraments, which are and come from the Incarnate Son of God. This wealth includes the jewel of Holy Baptism, the abundant treasury of forgiveness, complete peace with God and pardon from your sins, a standing invitation to dine at the Lord’s Table, receiving His very body and blood to strengthen and preserve you in body and soul unto life everlasting.
Yes, in Christ, you are rich! You have everything you need to support your body and soul for this life and for eternal life. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke, Homily 7.122, quoted in Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. Arthur J. Just (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 208.
[ii] Augustine Sermon 36.9, quoted in Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. Arthur J. Just (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 208
[iii] Ibn al-Tayyib, Tafsir al-Mashriqi 2:213, quoted in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, Kenneth E. Bailey (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008), p. 305.
[iv]  L.T. Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, 199), quoted in Luke 9:53-24:53, Concordia Commentary, Arthur J. Just (St. Louis, Mo: Concordia Publishing House, 1997), p. 507.
[v]  Luther, M. (1991). Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.


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