It Is of No Use

by Ahn Jae-woong
Christian Conference of Asia-Urban Rural Mission (CCA-URM)


Scripture: Luke 12:16-21, I Timothy 6:7-9

This morning I would like to share with you a couple of stories which may help us understand how to behave as Christians.

A Rich, Foolish Man

I am sure that all of us are very familiar with the story of the rich fool in the Gospel of Luke. According to the scripture, this rich man "had a land which bore good crops" (v.16b). The land was a prime source of wealth for the rich man.

This is true today, especially here in Hong Kong. The real estate dealers are busy all the time engaging in property speculation. At the same time, transnational corporations or TNCs are behaving exactly the same in terms of investing capital for land anywhere in the world according to their own calculations.

In the Biblical story, the rich man's problem was where to keep the grain as there had been an abundant harvest. He then decided to build a bigger barn in order to have a place to store his crops. It never occurred to him to share whatever was in excess of his needs. The more he had, the happier he was. Similarly, TNCs are always setting up more businesses in order to control the international financial markets.Their objective is capital accumulation. That is the logic of the capitalist system.

As we read in the scripture, this rich man called himself "a lucky man." He said to himself, "You have all the good things you need for many years. Take life easy. Eat, drink and enjoy yourself!" (V.19) While this rich man, as well as all the rich people in the industrialized countries, enjoy their life eating and drinking to their hearts content, there is a vast majority of the world's population who are dying without food.

We can see every day, as is widely covered by the mass media, that people are suffering everywhere. Last year in Africa, for instance, more than one million Rwandan refugees fled to Goma, to Bukavu and Kamanyola in south-eastern Zaire. A U.N. official appealed for HK$720 million (US$92.30 million) for immediate funding to meeting the crisis. Short-term needs included 600,000 blankets, 50 water tankers, 150 transport vehicles and 200,000 rolls of plastic sheeting. Indeed, very basic needs, but it was not even food - just water;  it was not even houses - just protection from the heat of the sun and the cold of the night. One million refugees needed 500 tons of food a day. Aid agencies were barely providing 20 percent of that. Currently human crisis is everywhere - in Bosnia - Herzegovina and closer to home on the Thai-Burmese border, in Jaffna, East Timor, Kashmir and in many other parts of the world where victimized peoples are dying day by day.

However, rich men and women today are taking their life easy, eating lavishly, drinking too much and indulging in anything according to their taste and luxurious lifestyles. All of these indulgences, however, are irrelevant to our life! God said to the rich man, "You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life. Then who will get all of these things you have kept for yourself?" (v.20)

Our tendency is to model ourselves on the rich man though, to follow the rich man's example. Many people are usurping their power and position, influencing others to serve their self-interests. It you strip them of their position, however, they are nothing; they become useless and helpless in our society. As the Bible says, "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and are caught in the trap of many foolish and harmful desires which pull them down to ruin and destruction" (I Tim. 6:9). In the end, this kind of life is of no use.

Courageous Men

In the Book of Daniel, you will find another story which is related to Christian living in our time:

"King Nebuchadnezzar had a gold statue made, 27 meters high and nearly 3 meters wide, ... in the province of Babylon" (Dan. 3:1). Then the king gave orders for all his officials to come together to attend the dedication ceremony. As soon as the music started, everyone was supposed to bow down and worship the gold statue. Anyone who did not do so was to be immediately thrown in the blazing furnace, and thus, "as soon as they heard the sound of the instruments, the people of all nations, races and languages bowed down and worshiped the gold statue which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up" (v.17).

There were some Jews, however, in charge of the province of Babylon - Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - who disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar's orders. Therefore, they were brought before the king, who said, "Do you think there is any god who can save you?" (v.15b). Then these three courageous men answered, "Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. If the god whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then He will; but even if He doesn't, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up" (v. 16-18). Then the king lost his temper and ordered his men to heat the the furnace seven times hotter than usual, and these three courageous men were thrown into the heart of the blazing fire.

Even though the king devised a horrible way to punish them, it was of no use because they showed no sign of being hurt because they were protected by God. Soon after this the king promoted these three courageous men to higher positions in the province of Babylon because they were servants of the Supreme God!

The question we have to ask ourselves now is, Do we have enough courage to confront all evil in our midst? If we sincerely remember Daniel's story, we should not be afraid of any kind of oppressing mechanism in society, in our work-place, in our community life. As in Daniel's story, there is no use harming those who truly believe in God.

Likewise, in the Book of Acts (5:17-42), the high priest and the Sadducees persecuted the apostles for teaching the Gospel. Their attempts were defeated, however, and instead the Gospel spread like wild-fire. Early Christians too built a catacomb for the protection and promotion of Christianity. It was no use trying to prevent those who are truly determined from practicing their faith.

Even the Romans who used their power to crucify Jesus Christ on the cross and bury Him in the tomb found that their power was of no use because He rose from death after three days. It was of no use because He is our Lord and Savior who will break through all human barriers.

Why are we so afraid then of all kinds of confrontation and persecution? For those who belong to Protestant denominations, we are bound to protest against all kinds of injustices and corrupt power. This is the way a Christian should live in our contextual situation. Let me quote from Aristotle:

"Human nature is given to us and not chosen by us. We can act against it, but we cannot abolish it. It (the State) is a function of society (that) he believes (is) to help us to act in accordance with our true nature. For this reason, the purpose of the State must be a moral one."

However, our experience of the modern State is that it is not moral but corrupt. Therefore, it is our Christian responsibility to speak and act against the immorality and corruption of our time and to build a just society. These things we are called to do.

An Ambitious Old Man

Let me conclude by sharing with you a novel by Ernest Hemingway entitled The Old Man and the Sea. I am sure that some of us still vividly remember the movie version of this novel wherein the old man was portrayed by Spencer Tracy. The story revolves around an old man who used to be a popular fisherman during his younger days. During those times, he was well respected and famous in his own fishing village. However, as he grew older, he was not able to catch a large amount of fish as he used to, so much so that his reputation drastically declined and the villagers began to mock him.

Subsequently, this ambitious old man dreamed of having a great catch once again in order to restore his glorious popularity and reputation. So one day he went fishing in the deep sea in order to turn his dreams into reality. Fortunately, he caught a huge fish that was sure to surprise all of the of the villagers in his home village. However, he was unable to put the big fish in his small fishing boat so he just decided to firmly strap it to the side of his boat.

While he is was on his way home, he was so excited and full of joy and great expectation at being treated as an honorable man again. However, a school of sharks surrounded his boat and started to feast on the big fish. Even though he struggled hard to keep the sharks away, it was no use. Moments later, as the sharks finished off the big fish, he realized that all of his dreams for recognition, pride, honor and sense of achievement had been eaten away; and when he arrived in the harbor of his fishing village, his glorious dreams and pride were turned into shame and frustration.

Perhaps what the Bible is trying to tell us today can be summarized as follows:

"What did we bring into the world? Nothing! What can we take out of the world? Nothing! So then, if we have food and clothes, that should be enough for us" (I Tim. 6:7-8).

Like the old fisherman, we tend to concentrate on the pursuit of fame and glory for our own personal interests. We lose track of our duty, and we become more concerned with the honor and recognition that a great catch brings rather than the catch itself.

We can do something, however, here and now. That is, to love each other, to share with one another and to support each other in order to make our community become truly humane, a community based on equality, justice, peace and happiness. These things we can do, and we can do now!

(Ed. note: The sermon below was delivered at Kowloon Union Church in Hong Kong during their Sunday worship service.)