How important are things to you? I would be the first to admit that I have lots of stuff. Far more stuff than I need to survive, or even to live a comfortable life. But how important is all that stuff to me? Would it ruin my life if any of it went away? Is there any of that stuff I would hold on to at all costs? Is there any other stuff that I just have to have to make my life more complete?
Jesus encounters someone who would answer yes to at least that last question. And in response, Jesus tells a parable to illustrate that there is something more important than stuff, encouraging us to focus more on the eternal and less on the perishable.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:13-21 NIV
This parable is prompted by a request from a nameless individual that Jesus force his brother to more equitably divide his father’s inheritance between them. This must have been a younger son, otherwise he would have been happy getting the bulk of the inheritance. But not getting his ‘fair share’ seemed to be grating on him and had become his top priority. So much so that when he has the opportunity to meet with Jesus, that is all he can think about. And Jesus responds with what we call the parable of the rich fool.
In this parable we see a rich man whose fields have produced a bumper crop come to a decision point; what to do with the abundance? And the decision he reaches is one that many of us would make as well. It’s time to retire, kick back, and enjoy life. At the risk of being self incriminating, why does that sound so familiar?
The problem for this man is that he does not get the opportunity to enjoy his retirement. The night of his decision to keep everything for himself is also his last on this earth. And everything he had accumulated went to someone else; he enjoys none of it.
Just what is it that Jesus is trying to tell the younger brother, as well as you and me? That God will cut short the lives of greedy rich folks? While that might have some appeal to many people, experience does not bear it out. Lots of folks who are both greedy and rich seem to live long lives, some of them even being relatively healthy and happy. So what is the point?
For all of us, life here will come to an end. And what will happen to what we leave behind? As much as we might like to take some of it with us into the life to come, that won’t happen. All of the riches, and other stuff, that we have accumulated will be left behind for others, just like for the rich man in the parable.
At the end of the parable Jesus makes clear what lesson he is trying to get across. It is actually very similar to what he says in Matthew 6:19-21 where he challenges us to store up our treasure in heaven, where it will last, instead of here on earth where it is only temporary. Am I investing in the work of the kingdom, or in my own life. If, like the rich man in the parable, I am only investing in my own life, then, when the time of accounting comes, I will have nothing. And that is what made this rich man a fool. He had so much he could have invested in the kingdom, but choose not to.
How does one invest in the kingdom? Ray Boltz says it much better than I ever could in his song Thank You.