- Hosea 11:1-11 & Psalm 107:1-9, 43
- Colossians 3:1-11
- Luke 12:13-21
First Reading: Hosea 11:1-11
This reading from the prophet Hosea provides a compassionate counter balance to the confronting material in chapter one which was listed for reading in the liturgy last weekend. In the opening chapter of the book, God is represented as divorcing his promiscuous spouse (Israel) and disowning the children born of the marriage. Here we have an equally bold characterisation of Yahweh as a compassionate and tender parent, who cannot bear to inflict the punishment that would otherwise befall the people:
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. [Hosea 11:3-4]
It is also worth noting that this chapter is also the source of the “prophecy” cited by Matthew to link the flight to Egypt with the biblical tradition:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. (Matt 2:15)
Second Reading: Colossian 3:1-11
This week’s passage from Colossians illustrates the dilemma posed by this letter. Its highly-developed Christology seems to suggest a movement in Paul’s thought towards a very spiritualised (almost Gnostic?) expression of Christian faith, and this might be taken as evidence that the letter is not authentic:
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. … Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
On the other hand, the affirmation of radical equality between members of the Christian community seems very much in keeping with the practice of Jesus and the authentic teaching of Paul preserved in Galatians 3:28:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Gospel: Luke 12
The traditions found in this week’s gospel reading deal with wealth as a spiritual problem, and that sets us up for some challenging engagement with the Jesus tradition this week.
The disputed inheritance
The first part of this week’s Gospel is known from both the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Luke.
A [person said] to him, “Tell my brothers to divide my father’s possessions with me.” He said to the person, “Mister, who made me a divider?” 3He turned to his disciples and said to them, “I’m not a divider, am I?” [Thom 72:1-2, Complete Gospels]
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” [Luke 12:13-15, NRSV]
On the basis of this double independent attestation, Crossan assigns this saying to the Common Sayings Tradition (CST); a set of 37 sayings found in both Q and Thomas. The Common Sayings Tradition is available online in various formats:
- John Dominic Crossan’s CST listing (Word file)
- Dean Pielstick has prepared a color-coded full text version of the CST (PDF file)
- A simplified version is available as a black and white master in DOC format
Such a primitive collection of Jesus’ sayings from before the time of the Gospels’ composition would be of great interest to many who look to Jesus for spiritual wisdom; and the more so if it offered access to a Jesus with less dogmatic accretions than the Christ figure we now find inscribed within the canonical Gospels. While the CST proposal requires both the existence of the Sayings Gospel Q and the independence of the earlier traditions now found in Thomas, that seems a reasonable (if not assured) assumption.
The rich farmer
This parable has no parallel outside of Luke although it is commonly interpreted as an Example Story, rather than as a parable that functions by means of metaphor.
While there are many biblical and rabbinic parallels to the moral injunction against greed, the closest we come to the parable itself is the following passage in Ben Sira 11:17-19:
Some stint and save and thus become rich
and think that they have achieved something
and say, “Now I will make myself a good life,
eat and drink of what I have”
— but they do not know that their hour is near
and that they must leave everything to others and die.
The commentary in The Five Gospels notes the Lukan context (Luke 12:13-34) in which several elements address questions concerning possessions:
12:13-15 Warning against greed
12:16-21 Parable of the rich farmer
12:22-32 Do not be anxious
12:33-34 Treasure in heaven
While some Fellows of the Jesus Seminar were influenced by the lack of distinctive traits to distinguish this saying from the typical moral instruction of the wisdom tradition, most noted the simpler version preserved in Thomas (with neither the introductory or concluding remarks found in Luke 12:15 and 12:21 respectively). The commentary continues:
Further, this parable can be seen as making a metaphorical point similar to that of the other parables that portray an inappropriate response to the coming of God’s imperial rule. Examples include the parables of the money in trust (Luke 19:12b // Matt 25:14-30); the unforgiving slave (Matt 18:23-34); the Pharisee and the toll collector (Luke 18:10-14); and the response of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). This farmer, like the useless and unforgiving servants, the earnest Pharisee, and the elder brother, fails to respond appropriately to the situation.
John Dominic Crossan [Historical Jesus, 275] notes that this parable is one of several complexes that express a criticism of wealth. In this case the farmer has not done anything wrong:
He is simply rich and has the planning problems of such status. But riches do not save you from death’s unexpected arrival.
Gerd Lüdemann [Jesus, 345f] takes a more sceptical stance on the authenticity of this parable, when he observes:
The authenticity of this passage is sometimes defended by designating it an ‘eschatological parable’ (J. Jeremias). But it is certainly not that. It is the narrative by a wise man indicating that riches mean nothing in the face of death. As one who knew the traditions of Israel, especially as he had called the poor blessed (6.20), Jesus may have thought that. But each time the context is quite different. If 6.20 is authentic, then 12.16-20 must be inauthentic. Jesus had other concerns than the fate of individual rich men, all the more so as the case mentioned in the parable was not and is not the rule.
If we seek to read this parable as metaphor rather than as a moral example, we need to shift gear.
Assuming for the moment that the farmer’s spiritual problem was not his remarkable prosperity (which tends to arouse our envy), what exactly was his problem? Was it the assumption that he had life under control? Did this farmer now see himself as master of his own destiny?
In a world where so many of his fellow citizens were falling into slave debt, his response to the amazing good fortune that had befallen him seems incompatible with the generosity of Heaven that Jesus celebrated in his actions and his teachings. Rather than proclaiming a messianic banquet and inviting to the feast those unable to repay his hospitality, this farmer wishes to hoard it away for his own benefit in the times to come.
Is that his fault?
And how different are we with our response to global need in the face of our amazing and undeserved prosperity?
- 043 Blessed the Poor
- 094 The Rich Farmer
- 097 The Disputed Inheritance
- 199 Kingdom and Riches
- 253 The Rich Man
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.