The Rich Fool (Parables of Jesus #4)
The Parables of Jesus: The Rich Fool - Luke 12:13–21
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • August 28, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
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Introduction - The Rich Fool
I’m continuing this morning in the sermon series, “The Parables of Jesus.” Parables serve as metaphors, which do more than just explain meaning, if you will, they create meaning. It’s the idea that a parable is more than delivery system for an idea, but think of it this way, parables construct houses in which we, the reader, are invited to take up residence. Some parables are straight-forward and their meaning easy to discern. And as Pastor Anna noted in her sermon three weeks ago, some even stumped those closest to Jesus, namely his disciples. Pastor Anna also suggested that many of us suffer from a critical lack of imagination when it comes to the parables–it’s the desire to just get to the point, and quickly. Pastor Anna offered us a tool, she invited us to enter into the parables like a child does with any story. A child, upon hearing a story starts to create an entire imaginative world, an imaginative landscape, if you will. As we enter into the parable for today, Luke 12:13-21, I would like to invite you to attempt to create the characters, the voices, the tenor and tone of their voices, to imagine the setting, the placement of sun in the sky, the texture and feel of the ground beneath your feet, try to totally immerse yourself into the story, to help, let’s listen to it together:
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18“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. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ 20“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?’ 21“This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)
Before we get the parable, Jesus has this interaction with someone who wants Jesus to weigh in on a dispute.
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13)
This unnamed person, opens with “Teacher.” It’s clear from the use of the title that the individual is appealing to Jesus in his positional authority as a Rabbi, what he wants is a legal judgement. You might also infer from the question he poses, what’s at stake, what’s most important, the relationship that he has between himself and brother, right? You would be wrong. This guy wants to conscript Jesus in forcing his brother to do what he has already decided is right. “My brother isn’t giving me what’s mine, you can make him. Jesus, will you?” With this understanding, it starts to make sense why Jesus responds as he does, “Man, leave me out of your fight with your brother!”
14Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”
Then Jesus adds a commentary on the request, this brother is before Jesus asking him for his authority to force his brother to divide up the inheritance in a way that gives this brother better terms, and it seems that the petitioner has placed his focus on the lesser of the two things at work (his relationship with his brother or his share of the inheritance). There is his relationship with his brother, which we can only assume is broken, if he is petitioning Jesus in public to settle a private dispute. And the inheritance itself. It seems that from the point of view of the petitioner, the inheritance is most important. I believe Jesus sensing this offers this nugget:
15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:14-15)
One of the traditional ways we read Jesus here is summarized as “Money is bad.” Again, we are moving into that outline view of Jesus’ teaching, how do I just get to the point. This is where we start to invoke the scripture we know, like, “Money is the root of all evil,” for instance, without realizing that we have misquoted the passage, it’s actually, “The love of money is the root of kinds of evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)” A wooden, literal translation reads: 1. Take heed and beware of every kind of insatiable desire. Possessions are bonded to a deep, often irrational fear–the fear of one day not having enough. This is a scarcity mentality. There isn’t enough. This the message of the Empire, not the Kingdom of God. Elsewhere in scripture, Jesus reminds us over and over again that the Kingdom is a kingdom of abundance. There is enough for everyone. When we believe the lie of the Empire, we false believe that our money and wealth is for us. If God is the owner of all things material and we are his stewards, what right do we have to the surpluses our desires create?
Our response to surpluses often is to:
Spend it on expensive items.
Upgrade our lives and lifestyle, living with a “spend it or lose it” mentality.
But expensive toys and go in debt.
Use it to acquire power.
Jesus has wrapped up the original petitioners request by denying it, then he turns to the crowd to give them a warning and some wisdom, “Follow after things that matter like relationships, not material wealth.”
We are all done folks!
Everyone is free to go.
But wait, Jesus doesn’t stop there, he decides it would be better for those gathered around him to hear a parable, here it is again,
16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18“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. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ 20“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?’ 21“This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
A simple reading of the parable might reveal that the farmer is a wise and responsible person. He has a thriving and successful farming business. Nothing wrong there. His farm has produced a bumper crop and he doesn’t have enough storage space in current barns, so he has to construct new barns. Seems sensible and responsible. Then he will have ample savings set for the future and will be able to enjoy his “golden years.” Seems wise and prudent.
Yet at the end of the parable Jesus calls him a fool.
Isn’t there something embedded in the American dream that encourages to strive for this? Isn’t it wise and responsible to save for the future? The rich farmer would probably be a good financial advisor. He seems to have things figured out. He has worked hard and saved wisely. Now he can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labor, right?
Is it this guy’s fault that he is successful? He planted the right crop and the soil, the sun, the rain all conspired together to bless him and Jesus isn’t happy with all of that that he rags on this guy’s success.
What’s wrong with success and with wealth?
Something because Jesus calls him a fool. And in case you were wondering, in this context being a fool is a bad thing.
If we try to determine it’s meaning from the petitioners request for Jesus to compel his brother to give him more of his inheritance, we might reduce the meaning of the parable to something heavy handed like all material wealth is bad, so get rid of it. A harkening back to our misquoting of 1 Timothy 6.
What if the issue is how the rich man thinks of his wealth?
When the rich man talks in this parable, he talks only to himself, and the only person he refers to is himself:
“What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” “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; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (Luke 12:17-19, NASB).
The rich man’s land has produced abundantly, yet he expresses no sense of gratitude to God or to the workers who have helped him plant and harvest this bumper crop. He has more grain and goods in storage than he could ever hope to use, yet seems to have no thought of sharing it with others, and no thought of what God might require of him. He is blind to the fact that his life is not his own to secure, that his life belongs to God, and that God can demand it back at any time.
Just like last week, when we get rid of mercy, we also are at risk of getting rid of God. The temptation of wealth is the illusion you are self-sufficient, that you need no one, you need nothing, you have everything yourself. And if that’s true then you certainly don’t need God. Maybe that’s why Jesus calls the rich man a fool.
He’s dependent on a lot of things: rain, soil, sun, good weather. He’s dependent on the workers who prepared the field, planted the seed, and harvested the crop. He’s dependent on those who built the barns and transferred the crops to be stored. He’s dependent on those who will purchase his crop and transform it into a end product. Maybe he’s a fool because he believe that he is responsible, and he alone for his weal and well-being. It’s all an illusion.
Like the rich farmer, we are tempted to think that having large amounts of money and possessions stored up will make us secure. Sooner or later, however, we learn that no amount of wealth or property can secure our lives. No amount of wealth can protect us from a genetically inherited disease, for instance, or from a tragic accident. No amount of wealth can keep our relationships healthy and our families from falling apart. Wealth and property can easily drive a wedge between family members, as in the case of the brothers fighting over their inheritance at the beginning of this text.
Most importantly, no amount of wealth can secure our lives with God. In fact, Jesus repeatedly warns that wealth can get in the way of our relationship with God. “Take care!” he says. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).
It is not that God doesn’t want us to save for retirement or future needs. It is not that God doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, and be merry” and enjoy what God has given us. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life. But he was also clear about where his true security lay.
It is all about priorities. It is about who is truly God in our lives. It is about how we invest our lives and the gifts that God has given us. It is about how our lives are fundamentally aligned: toward ourselves and our passing desires, or toward God and our neighbor, toward God’s mission to bless and redeem the world.
Our lives and possessions are not our own. They belong to God. We are merely stewards of them for the time God has given us on this earth. We rebel against this truth because we want to be in charge of our lives and our stuff.
What does it look like in our day in age having to save and plan for the future, taking care of ourselves and our family? What does it look to look like to glorify God with money while managing to take care of your self and those you love?