Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “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.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then 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; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Once there was a grasshopper, well known among the woodland creatures for his music and entertaining dances. On hot summer days, much like this one today, when he at last rose from his slumber, he would go out into the woods to play his fiddle, share stories with his friends, his neighbors, and well, really anyone who passed him by. As the days settled into pleasant summer evenings, he would cavort about, singing and dancing into the depths of the warm night.
And so the grasshopper continued through the summer, thoroughly enjoying the pleasant weather, the long days, and the abundant food. But as the grasshopper reveled in living his best life, he could not help but to notice the one creature who would not share in his celebrations and partying.
“Come sing with me!” the grasshopper would shout to the ant. “I haven’t the time,” the ant would reply as it scurried about with grains upon its back. “Come dance with me!” the grasshopper would call to the ant later. “I’m much too busy,” the ant responded over the top of a large berry it was carrying back to its home. “Why is it that you never have time to come dance and sing and play with me?” asked the grasshopper one sunny afternoon. “You foolish grasshopper,” said the ant, “don’t you know that soon enough the summer and its pleasant times will pass away? Before long it will be winter and I am too busy working to store up food so that my family and I will have enough to eat through the long, dark winter!”
And you know what? The ant was right. Soon the days grew shorter and cooler. The woodland critters who once partied with the grasshopper crawled into their beds for the long winter sleep. The leaves on the plants turned vibrant colors and then faded and fell away.
The grasshopper was all alone. He had no more friends to dance to his songs. He had no more food to fill his belly. The woodland around him had grown barren and silent. Save for the house of the ant. It stood in the midst of the woods, glowing warmly, good smells coming from deep within it. “Ah, I know,” the grasshopper said to himself, “I’ll go to my friend the ant and celebrate with them, and fill my belly with good food.”
But when the ant answered the door, it refused to let the grasshopper in, saying, “You wasted away your summer when there was plenty of food to be stored away, because you did not want to work and toil away. But now you want to come and benefit from my hard work and labor? Why don’t you go and fill your belly with that fiddle of yours?” With that, the ant slammed the door and the grasshopper was left out in the cold winter night, all alone, and with nothing to eat.
I am sure you have heard this story before, in some form or another. If you’re like me, you probably even heard this story very early in life. I was in kindergarten when I first heard the Grasshopper and the Ant from Aesop’s Fables. Now maybe you haven’t thought about this tale in a long time, I know that I hadn’t, but it is deeply embedded in our psyche, a foundational brick in our collective outlook. Don’t be like the carefree grasshopper, be like the industrious ant. Don’t go outside and play with your friends while you still have homework and chores to do. Don’t go on that study abroad trip, do the sensible internship instead—it will help you get a job. Don’t go on vacation right now, there is too much work to be done, too much labor is at hand to rest right now. Save money for unforeseen expenses, save money for college, save money for emergencies, and above all, save money for retirement.
The fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant just seems to make sense. It strikes a chord with our sense of morality and reassures us that what we have is rightfully ours, rightfully deserved. Work hard, store away what you earn for harder times, and above all else, be suspicious of those who seem to be enjoying themselves too much and despise those who ask for charity. It is the story of our society in a nutshell.
I find myself coming back to this fable over and over again as I read Jesus’ parable this morning. Jesus tells all who are gathered about the foolish rich man, and all I can think is, “what about the ant who worked so hard, hasn’t he earned what he has?”
What about the ant, indeed. It’s not just that Jesus’ teaching challenges the wisdom of this fable, it is that Jesus’ parable is a one-hundred-eighty-degree shift from the fable. It is not just the fable either. Jesus’ words run head-on into our cultural understanding of prudence, hard work, and self-preservation. In fact, this may be one of those rare parables that is more challenging to us who live in the wealth of a modernized western culture than it was to those who first heard it as they gathered around Jesus that day.
“But people have to work hard,” we say to Jesus, “we have to work hard so that we can earn a living and make money.”
“And then what?” Jesus asks.
We have to work hard and earn a living so that we have money to buy the things we need and save for the future.
And then what?
We have to save for the future, because we may need that money someday! The future is uncertain, and we never know what emergency may befall us. Maybe our car will need a new transmission. Maybe the roof on our house will start leaking. Maybe we will have to go to the hospital. You never know!
And then what?
We have to store up money for retirement! We don’t want to be a burden on our family and maybe we could finally go on that trip that we’ve always talked about. Besides, people are living longer and longer these days and we want to make sure that we always have enough—you can never have too much saved away!
“And then what?” Jesus presses.
We start to sound a lot like the man in the parable, the silos of our wealth towering around us. Isolating us. Insulating us. Giving us the warm, comfortable feeling of security. Until God’s voice breaks through the cocoon that we have spun for ourselves, “Fools, do you not know that this very night your life is being demanded of you? To what end have you amassed all this wealth? What good will it do you now?”
The grasshopper lies dying in the field, cold, and hungry. So too, this very night, will the ant die in its bed. All the toil and labor the ant endured through the summer will have been for naught, and the forest and field will fall silent in the icy depths of winter.
The question that Jesus ruthlessly drives at is simple. What purpose does the wealth you have serve? To what end has God blessed you with resources in this life? The answer betrayed by our actions and behaviors, if not by our words, is to insulate ourselves from the hardships of this world. We use our wealth as much as possible to isolate ourselves from the brokenness that is all around us. But in the end, our money can do nothing to insulate and isolate us from the reality of death. And in the end, what good will all that wealth do? It certainly isn’t coming with us.
There is an urgency in Jesus’ words. After all, this parable is prompted by a man who is having a quarrel with his brother over the family inheritance. Jesus has no patience for it. Any squabbling, or worrying, or striving for more wealth, more resources, more money is as foolish as the rich man in the parable. Jesus is not concerned with the future, with what might be, and with retirement. There is an immediacy to his work, and that immediacy points us to the answer of what Jesus sees as the purpose for our God-given resources.
To what end has God blessed you with money and resources in this life? The answer is simple: to build the Kingdom of God. Our wealth does not exist for us insulate and isolate ourselves from the hardships of our world, it exists so that we might take it into the world’s brokenness and work to build the Kingdom of God in the places that ache for it the most.
My friends, there are so many places in the world around that hunger, long, and ache for the Kingdom of God. I wonder what places you see. Is it in the epidemic of gun violence that our politicians refuse to address and that claimed another twenty lives in El Paso just yesterday and another nine overnight in Dayton? Is it in the concentration camps of immigrants along our southern border, the camps that have claimed eight lives now as a sacrifice upon the altar of border security? Is it in the record heat waves across the world and the wildfires burning rampantly in the arctic circle that are the bell weather of a world thrown off course by climate change? Is it in the racism, intolerance, and vitriol that has come to define our democracy these past few years rather than decency, compassion, and a desire to make the world a better place? Is it in the homelessness and poverty up and down the Connecticut River and even here in our own towns and communities, where our own neighbors are hungry, lonely, and cold?
There are so many places all around us, so many people all around us, who so desperately need God’s Kingdom; who ache for God’s Kingdom to break through in their midst. And God has blessed you, each and every one of you, with gifts, resources, knowledge, and compassion to enter right into the aching heart of the world.
Start small. Pick just one place where you sense that deep ache. I wonder which one you will choose. Then go. God has given you all that you need to become a cornerstone for the Kingdom of God in that place of need and longing.
Somewhere in a woods, perhaps not far from here, a grasshopper approaches a house and prepares to knock. When the door is at last thrown open, may he find the Kingdom of God waiting for him there.
Preached by Adam Yates