This passage occurs in the RCL Year C, most recently in July 2016.
Summary: I am intrigued by the fact that Jesus does not make a distinction between "needs" and "wants." So much of my Christian and cultural upbringing taught me to distinguish between "need" and "want." God gives us what we need; not necessarily what we want; we can keep what we need and given to charity the things we "only" want. I wonder if it is time for us to explode this distinction and say God gives us all we have; all we have is a gift to be shared! All possessions, at some deep level, are simply wants. All we truly need is God, a God who provides us with daily bread and who gives us his eternal Kingdom.
If you are preaching this after Luke 11:1-13 (the Lord's prayer and praying; the RCL's previous week's Gospel passage), this passage becomes a great way to build on what we mean by daily bread and "yours is the Kingdom"!
οχλου (genitive of οχλος, "ochlos", meaning "crowd", 12:13) It is someone in the crowd who calls to him; The word here for crowd is οχλος, a fairly common word in the NT. It refers to the uneducated mass of citizens; Jesus is among "the people."
κληρονομια(ν) ("kleronomia", meaning "inheritance", 12:13) Breaking down this word explains the trouble people had and continue to have with it. The word is literally "portion-law." κλερος means portion (or lot, as in cast lots); νομος means law (the ending has an "a" because it is a feminine word, but this doesn't change the fact that its root it still νομος). An inheritance is meant to be a gift, a blessing to future generations. Due to sin, we cannot leave a gift a gift, but we have to "protect" it with laws until the point where it no longer becomes gift. It is interesting too that the people want to make Jesus, the savior, into a law-giver. Again, due to sin, we cannot embrace a gift, but must install law!
πλεονεξια ("pleonexia", meaning "greed" or "coveting", 12:15) Jesus warns them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed." The word here for "greed" is πλεονεξια. This word, whenever it appears in the NT, has a negative connotation, most often used in laundry lists of obvious sins. Most interesting, however, is the connection that Colossians 3:5 (the RCL's NT reading for this week) provides. Paul writes that coveting, πλεονεξια is, in essence, idolatry. Wow! Greed as idolatry is in itself a great sermon (Walter Bruggeman gave a fantastic sermon on this at Luther Seminary in 2008). One tidbit he shared is that as Paul connects coveting/greed and idolatry, he connects the last commandment (do not covet) to the first (one God; no idols).
υπαρχοντων (genitive participle of υπαρχω, meaning "possessions", 12:15) Jesus warns of an excess of possessions. It is worth reminding ourselves that the word for possessions, υπαρχοντων, does not simply mean toys or things. It includes: means, resources, the things which one can claim for existence. In fact, the word is a substantive participle, literally meaning "the things that exist to him."
Two examples of where this word shows up:
Luke 8:3 These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 19:8 Zacchaeus says to Jesus: Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor.
In other words, Jesus here is not distinguishing between needs and wants. Perhaps this is really helpful for as American Christians who are told we can have what we need, but not what we want.
Our tendency is to greatly exaggerate what we need! Jesus here points out that our only need is God and God alone.
αναπαυου (command form of αναπαυω, meaning "rest"; 12:19) We are a world hungry for relaxation -- stress relief from our anxieties. The word for relax here is αναπαυω. This word is used in Matthew 11:28, when Jesus promises us rest (Come to me all you who are weary and heaven laden for I will give you rest." The parable asks us a haunting question: Where do we seek our solace? Where do we seek out rest? Possessions inevitably require maintenance, rules and effort...and do not bring us the profound solace we had hoped for.
τρεφει (feed; 12:24), αμφιεζει (clothe; 12:28) I put these two verbs together. They appear in these verses:
Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds (τρεφει) them.
Luke 12:28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe (αμφιεζει) you
In both of these cases, the verb is in the present tense, indicating an on-going action. God will continually feed and clothe us. This is not a one-time action to start the human story in motion, but a continuous creator!
προστεθησεται (future passive form of προστιθημι, meaning "add", 12:31) What is significant here is that this verb is in the passive voice, meaning that the subject (us) is not the agent (the one doing the work.) If these things are to be added, it is not because of us, but because of God. If you did not catch that God has agency, not us, in the next verse Jesus says that the Father gives us the Kingdom.
Two little grammar notes:
12:16 "A certain rich man..." The literal translation of the clause
is: "of a man certain rich produced good crops the field." The fact
that the first three words - man, certain, rich - are all in same case
shows they are related.
12:17/12:18 The verb ποιησω appears in both 12:17 and 12:18. Even though both spellings are the same, it is conjugated (and therefore translated) differently. The first time it is translated as an aorist subjunctive: "What shall I do?" In the other it
is future indicative: "This I will do." Context
determines the correct translation