The Lonely Landlord
8 Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land. 9 The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing: “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. 10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.” Isaiah 5:8-10 ESV
Dear Church Family,
In 1934, Charles Darrow was down on his luck in depression-era America. He tried to sell a board game called Monopoly to the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers companies. Both rejected it. After self-made versions of the game sold well over the Christmas season, however, Parker Brothers reconsidered and bought the rights to the game. Darrow became a millionaire.
So what’s the problem with this “American dream?” Darrow had stolen important elements of his game from Elizabeth Magie, who had patents on the game she had developed around the turn of the century. Ironically, Lizzie Magie’s game, called The Landlord’s Game, had been invented to teach the evils of land-grabbing monopolists like the Rockefellers. Her version had become especially popular among anti-capitalist professors and college students. Several homemade versions had floated around, and by 1930, Quakers in Atlantic City had developed a version with property titles like “Boardwalk” and “Park Place.”
Darrow, it turned out, had learned the game from a group of Quakers around 1932, and asked them to right up a few copies of the rules for him. Eventually, Parker Brothers paid Magie a paltry $500 for the rights to the game that made millions for their company and Darrow. There’s a real irony that a game intended to teach the evils of greedy capitalism was essentially stolen by capitalists, who made millions from the game. Personally, I’ve never liked the game; it takes too long to play.
Apparently, greed is not a new invention. Isaiah condemns those who snatch up all the property they can, trying to shut themselves up in their own little world. What’s wrong with that? Well, the Bible affirms private ownership of property, but with the understanding that the land should stay within the family, and that everything ultimately belongs to God. Property must also be used to honor God, and that includes caring for the poor. Buying up everything in sight leaves nothing for the poor, and will lead to the judgment of God.
Last week we looked at a vineyard owner whose crops were so abundant that he had to build bigger barns. He would never get to enjoy the abundance of his harvest, however, because of his unexpected death. Our passage today adds several lessons to the vanity of greed. First, once you’ve bought up everything, you may find that your “stuff” is all you have—a sad, lonely life is its own punishment. In addition, however, is the fact that financial success is too uncertain to be the source of security, and God’s judgment can come in this life, not just in the next.
In Christ’s service,