Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

The Rich but Foolish Man

Luke 12:16-21 He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself,” What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? ‘ And he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him,” Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ‘ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

No, this is not about saving or planning for the future, although many have taken it that way. Jesus never preached against planning for the future, or against accumulating wealth in a prudent way. To understand this parable we need to look at what prompted it, and for this we need to back up a few verses.

Luke 12:13-15: One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

To fully understand what is going on here we need to understand inheritance in the ancient Jewish culture. We are dealing with two brothers here, an older and a younger. The younger brother is the one who approaches Jesus, we know this because the father’s belongings would go to the eldest brother to divide up according to tradition. The eldest brother was then to take the father’s worldly goods and apportion them to his siblings, with him getting the major share. If we assume that the younger brother isn’t asking for a larger share, and there is nothing in the text to support this, then what seems to be happening is that the younger brother is impatient at how long it is taking to receive his share.

Jesus, likewise, is impatient with the man, asking (rhetorically) why he is being bothered with this worldly issue. Actually, the man wasn’t totally out of line in bringing the question to an authority figure, Jesus will even recommend this in Matt 18:15:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”

But Jesus is not here to deal with the financial concerns of people, his mission is for our souls. His response to the man is in that tone, not to be concerned about the goods and riches of this world for at any moment we may die, then what? You cannot take it with you, and the modern saying “he who dies with the most toys wins” means nothing when we stand in judgement. Quite the opposite, if we have not taken care of those in need then our stockpiles may well be held against us. We were not put on this earth to accumulate wealth (though there is nothing inherently wrong with it, Abraham was wealthy beyond counting) but to care for each other. The answer to Cain’s question (Gen 4:9), “am I my brother’s keeper” is yes, that is our purpose, to look after each other as Jesus looked after his flock.

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