READ : Luke 12:14-15
But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:14-15 rsv
Have you heard that expression: the Midas Touch? It comes from an old legend about Midas, King of Phrygia, whose fingers had the power to change everything into gold. For many, this seems a surpassingly desirable capacity. People who have a talent for making wealth out of any activity they become involved in are described as having “the Midas Touch.” Whatever they touch, we say, turns to gold.
The legend itself, however, takes a tragic turn. King Midas at first enjoyed his power immensely, since he was able to convert relatively worthless items around him into priceless treasures. But one day, forgetting the awesome power that had been given him, he reached out to his darling child. Midas was dismayed as the joy of his life became a cold, lifeless, golden statue.
So the Midas Touch isn’t an unmixed blessing, is it? The capacity to gain wealth may end by destroying those we love, shattering our relationships, breaking our hearts. Perhaps King Midas, who had coveted this extraordinary ability, lived to rue the day he had ever received it. Perhaps he longed to be free from it.
A KIND OF BONDAGE
The yen for wealth, the pursuit of it, the preoccupation with increasing it, can become a kind of bondage. That can be true either for the fabulously rich, for those who live in grinding poverty, or for anyone in between. There’s a bent for coveting in all of us from which we need deliverance. Jesus saves us from the Midas Touch. Listen to these words from the Gospel According to Luke, chapter 12, beginning at verse 13:
One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, `What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all 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.’ But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
This was a discouraging interruption for the Lord. He had been speaking to the multitudes about things of great significance: the fear of God, the crucial importance of confessing the Son of Man in this world, and the promised help of the Holy Spirit for bold witness. Suddenly, one of His hearers broke in with this rude request, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” We almost hear him say, “I don’t care about these things You’re telling us; what I want is somebody to straighten out that selfish brother of mine.” Isn’t it remarkable what the prospect of an inheritance can do to people when someone is about to die? Potential heirs can develop a grasping heart, a desire to turn everything to gold for their benefit. That tendency can poison the closest of relationships, sometimes setting brother against brother, sister against sister, in life-long enmity, and it can blind a person to what’s really important in life.
That’s precisely what it did to this interrupter. Whatever Jesus had to say about the kingdom of God and the high destiny of people, this man had no ears to hear it. He was totally absorbed with the inheritance of which he felt himself cheated, and he had no love any more for the man he bitterly called “brother.” Something had happened in his heart. He had developed something like the Midas Touch.
HOW IT HAPPENS TO US
How can possessions do that sort of thing to us? Why is it that a man will turn his back on God and scheme against his closest relatives for the sake of an inheritance? Someone says it’s because he’s covetous. Yes, that’s true, but what gives to covetousness such a deadly power over us? The problem is that most of us seem to cherish the illusion that possessions can bring fulfillment, that wealth means happiness. A person can make having the feverish quest of his whole existence because he believes that to have is to be, and to be rich is to be happy.
Jesus had little patience with this peevish demand. “Man,” he answered, “who made me a judge or a divider over you?” If the complainer wanted to advance his financial interests, he had come to the wrong person. Jesus didn’t come for that. But this was only part of the delusion under which the man was laboring. Jesus attacks the deeper error when He says to all those around Him, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” No, it doesn’t consist of the gold we have around us, or of our power to convert everything into wealth.
Apparently, we all need to watch out for this. It seems to be such a subtle snare that only constant vigilance can keep us from it. And, according to Jesus, if we’re to have any defense against this evil, we need to get one thing straight: possessions do not equal life. What a man has can neither preserve his life nor fulfill it.
Even as I say that, I wonder if there’s any teaching of our Lord’s which is more widely disbelieved than this one. We can hear many, many people tell us that an increase in their wealth has not led to a greater sense of well-being, but all of us seem to feel a yen to try that experiment for ourselves. We simply do not take seriously the truth Jesus is laying out before us. Whenever our desire to gain and have becomes an absorbing interest in life, we have missed our way.
Jesus next told a story to enforce this lesson. We call it “the Parable of the Rich Fool.” It’s about a man with the Midas Touch. The rich farmer, it seems, has enjoyed a bountiful harvest. Strangely, this increased wealth seems to constitute a problem for him, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” The more he gains, the more anxious he seems to become about holding on to what he has. Sound familiar? That hardly makes fortune-hunting a recipe for happiness, does it?
Now he has made his decision, “I will do this; I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” Do you notice how prominent the possessive pronoun is here? It grates on our ears. To the rich man, these are “my” barns, “my” grain, “my” goods. His growing wealth seems to blind him to the most important fact about it; namely, its source. If the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. . . . If summer and harvest are His ordinances, and sunshine and rain His gifts, it’s bad taste, to say the least, to forget Him when we enjoy the fruits of the land. Friends, we are stewards. All we have we receive from God’s fatherly hand, and we’re accountable to Him for what we do with it. But as wealth has increased, this awareness seems to have faded completely from the rich man’s mind.
His last words draw back the curtain and show us what lies deepest in his heart, “I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.'” Here’s the fatal error again, the idea that wealth secures happiness, that the power to create wealth makes you blessed. The rich man congratulates himself. Because he has so much, he will be secure, he thinks, for many years to come. He admires himself on this guaranteed happiness.
It’s no wonder, in the light of all this, that the apostle Paul can call covetousness a kind of idolatry. Our possessions can become our idols, our little gods, when we find in them our security and expect from them our highest well-being. Jesus says to us, “Take my yoke upon you. Come to me and I will give you rest” (see Matt. 11:28). But the man with the Midas Touch says to himself, “Take your ease.” The word root is the same in each case. The covetous expect to receive from their possessions what only their Maker and Lord can actually give: peace of mind, rest of heart, true contentment.
That’s what makes the rich man a fool. The fool is the one who says in his heart, “No god.” He lives his life practically as though God did not exist, as though anyone who has his financial portfolio in good order has no need of God. But the Lord’s rebuke comes swiftly, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Those riches, in other words, cannot prolong his life one hour. He will find little help from them when he comes to die. What foolishness, then, for him to set his hope upon them, to expect that they can fill the aching void in his life and make his future bright. And that folly, says Jesus, is shared by everyone whose chief concern is to gather for himself. It’s the mistake of everyone who covets something like the Midas Touch.
RICH TOWARD GOD
The alternative, of course, is to be what Jesus calls “rich toward God.” Remember how the Lord spoke of “laying up treasure in heaven”? (see Matt. 6:19-20). That’s being rich toward God. You invest your resources in heaven’s kingdom when you give lavishly of what you have for others. That’s entrusting your wealth to God, being rich in His direction. Jesus says that we’re to seek His kingdom, and all these other things shall be ours as well. Make God the Lord of your life, His will your rule, His smile your hope of happiness. Then possessions will assume their rightful place. Love God and use your gifts to express His love toward people. That’s where life is found. Wealth and happiness really do go together, but not as the rich man thought they did. When we make the Lord our treasure, we find in Him our happiness, too!
That’s how Jesus saves us from the Midas Touch. He helps us to see that there’s something more important in life than our possessions and the power to get them. He makes real to us the marvelous love of God that makes us truly secure and gives us hope. He changes the Midas Touch, releases the miser’s grasp, and gives us hands that reach out and give.
But it’s a personal decision for all of us. Remember that other rich young man who came to Jesus? When faced with the call to sell everything he had, give to the poor, and then follow Jesus, looking forward to a treasure in heaven, he went away sorrowful because he had great possessions. He couldn’t bring himself to let them go. It’s faith in Christ that can loosen that hold. It’s when we believe that He truly has something better and grander to offer us than what we have that we’re willing to respond to His call, to make Him and His kingdom our true treasure.
What would we really rather have? A child or a golden image of one? A living God or a bejeweled idol? The Midas Touch – let’s unmask it for what it is. It’s the deadly tendency to sacrifice everything else for a profit. If we have to become alienated from our relatives, if we have to compromise conscience, if we have to ruin the people we’re called to love best, we’ll do it all if the Midas Touch is what we want most. It’s a personal tragedy for us when we think most of our wealth and the happiness and security it can bring us. Our touch then becomes deadly to those around us, destructive of faith and love.
The young man in Albania, Bledi Hodobashi, when he first began to hear the Words of HOPE Albanian broadcast, scoffed, “Religion! I don’t need religion. My life is music.” But as he continued to listen, as he heard for the first time the name of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us, his outlook began to change. He began to realize that music didn’t “fill him up.” He needed something more. O, friends, realize it, money doesn’t fill you up, either. Though you could convert everything to wealth, you could still remain in inner poverty. Money can’t fill you up, but Jesus can. I invite you to venture everything in following Him. He promises that you’ll discover real life.