Luke 12:13-21 7/31/16 Epiphany, Norfolk

Our Gospel Reading this morning is from Luke, and it presents us with an idea that I’ve always found fascinating. The story is a little convoluted, so let me recap it for you and try to sort it out.
Jesus is asked to mediate a dispute around an inheritance. Now in Jesus’ day, they followed the practice of progenitor, which meant that inheritance was very straight forward. The eldest son inherited everything. And here we have a younger brother upset because his older brother wouldn’t share the inheritance, and he wants Jesus to “fix it.” But Jesus wants nothing to do with all this. He says, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” But then he gives some advice to both of them, to be on their guard against greed. I guess he sees the older brother as being greedy by not sharing with his younger brother, and the younger brother by coveting the older brother’s legitimate inheritance.
And then Jesus tells them the parable of a rich farmer whose land produced so much that he could not get it all into his barn. So he decided to build a bigger barn and store all of his crops. And in the planning stage for this building project, he has a little conversation with himself. And here is my favorite line: “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, but merry’.” And we all know the rest of the story. God pipes up and says to the rich farmer that he will give up his life that night, and asks to whom all of this will belong.
Well, I love that line, “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul……” The idea of a “soul” is always a puzzlement to me. The “soul” is one of those metaphysical concepts, like “spirit”, that is really hard to describe. In fact, for both the Hebrews and the Greeks, there was sort of a blurring of “soul” and “spirit.” For the Hebrews, “spirit” was the “breath of life” that God breathed into Adam. And in some strange way, that “breath of life” rested in a person as his/her “soul.” And this is what we find in the Old Testament.
But the New Testament picks up the Greek understanding of life. And the Greeks saw things in dualities, or opposites. There was the physical body, and there was the spiritual body. And the “soul” was the embodiment of the spiritual body. And for the Greeks, living a good and healthy life revolved around keeping the “soul” and the “body” in harmony. If one got out of balance, it caused great pain for the other, which was “disease”, or, “dis-ease.” Well, our reading this morning is from Luke. And Luke’s understanding of “the soul” would have fallen under the Greek school of a separate body and soul that had to be balanced.
So, the question becomes, do we have a soul, whether in the Hebrew sense, or the Greek sense? I think we do. I think I’m aware of having a soul, or a spirit, or some kind of a non-physical consciousness. But what is it? Is it our conscience, that advises us on right and wrong? Is it our “alter egos”, that are another side of our personhood? Is it the “Spirit of God”, or the “Spirit of Life”, or the “Spirit of Truth” within us? Is it in our heart, or in our brain, or in our psyche? I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that I have a soul, and that you have a soul, too. It doesn’t show up in an MRI, or a CT scan, but it’s somewhere in here, and it’s very powerful.
And like our successful farmer in today’s reading, I talk to my soul, and I think my soul talks to me. When I do something right and good, I can feel my soul “smiling.” When I do something wrong, I can feel my soul “frowning.” And sometimes, I think I can even feel my soul nagging me with direction. Sometimes I ask my soul for advice. “Soul. I have this dilemma. What are my options?” And I think my soul answers me. Sometimes I don’t like the answer, but I think I can trust my soul to be honest.
I like to think of my soul as “the holy” in me. My soul seems to know good from bad, right from wrong, what I should do and what I should not do, how I should feel and how I should not feel. My soul seems to know these things.
Sometimes, I think my soul acts like a filter. My soul can filter out my selfishness, my excessive ego needs, my envy, my disdain, my judgmental attitudes, my greed, all of those “things” that I find “unholy” about myself. If I ask my soul, and if I listen to my soul’s quiet answer, I find my life to be more centered.
I think a lot of my personal prayer life is actually addressed to my soul. And if, in fact, my soul is “The Holy” within me, that makes sense.
Now, in today’s Gospel, the farmer has decided what he will do. It sounds reasonable to me. He has had good fortune, and he wants to take care of it. So, he checks with his soul and lets his soul know what’s he’s thinking. But apparently God is listening in. And God speaks up and tells the farmer that it’s all for naught because he’s going to die that night. The idea is that none of the wealth he has amassed will be his after this night.
This really confuses the whole thing, doesn’t it? If the text is authentic, it creates this strange relationship between “the soul” and God. And that doesn’t work for me. I think there’s really something wrong with the text, and I can’t sort it out.
But it is a parable, and parables are teaching tools, and sometimes they don’t hold up when we look too hard. Luke was trying to talk about greed, and selfishness, and all things ultimately belonging to God. I’m the one who muddled it up by picking up on “the soul.” But it’s one of those things I ponder.
I believe in a soul. I trust my soul. I see my soul as an element of the Holy within me. I see my soul as what makes me a “Creature of God”, and what makes you a “Creature of God” that must be respected. And that makes sense to me.

Posted August 3, 2016 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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