Jesus used stories as a way of teaching – which was common for the wandering Jewish rabbis of his day. His disciples have written down roughly 40 of them: Some are similar themes told in different ways. Some are well known and told over and over again – while others are less well known. Today we read a story that is not told as often:
The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (ESV)
So here is a parable that is elegant in its simplicity: it is the kind of parable that needs no explanation: it challenges the idea of building bigger and bigger barns to store your wealth.
But this is not really a story about wealth – it is a story about greed: there is a back story:
Jesus is approached by an unhappy family member who says to Jesus: “Tell my brother to share the inheritance”. We must presume that the brother is standing there too. And they wait for Jesus adjudicate their dispute – and instead Jesus tells a story… .
Jesus tells of a man who becomes wealthy, and he builds bigger barns to store his wealth. Then he discovers that his life is coming to an end, and death will strip him of all his wealth.
This story was originally intended for the two brothers standing in front of Jesus: This story asks a question of each of these brothers
But beyond the two brothers – this parable has haunted our consciences for the past 2000 years. It asks the essential question of human existence:
“How much is enough?”
At this point it is easy to see why this parable is often avoided: It is an uncomfortable story.
I find this story difficult to preach – because this parable contradicts our culture:
We live in a world that makes heroes of wealthy people. We put their faces on the covers of magazines – and we take photographs of their houses, and their yachts, and their vehicles.
Ours is a culture that believes storing up grain in bigger barns is praise-worthy.
And Jesus cuts across this and says – this is not a Godly way of living. In fact Jesus issues a warning: (in vs 21): beware “the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Here’s the thing: Some are blessed with much – because God chose them to manage wealth:
God gives some people financial ability
God gives some people opportunities to gain wealth
God gives some the ability to make wealth
But Wealth is not for collecting – it is given to serve God.
Jesus elaborates on this a few verses later: in vs 48: Of the one to whom much is given, much is required.
In other words – you can fill a barn with wealth – but expect God to call on that wealth for God’s blessings to the community.
Allow me a prophetic word:
It is just plain evil that there are some people who have more wealth than they could ever spend in a lifetime – while others do not have enough to get to the end of the week.
It is wrong that there are nations that spend more on protecting their wealth than they do on assisting people who are starving.
I go to the words of one of the great evangelical teachers of our time: Dr Ron Sider. He influenced my life and thinking – and I am saddened that he died this week. Ron Sider, who grew up in the Mennonite tradition, gave his time and passion to challenging Christians to be uncomfortable with the inherent greed of our culture. “Great economic inequality inevitably produces injustice in a fallen world; therefore Christians must oppose it.”
― Ronald J. Sider, Just Politics: A Guide for Christian Engagement
Jesus says that this lesson begins at home – he speaks to the two brothers and says to them: When you fight over inheritance, you no longer follow the way of God. The fact is that
Challenge us to become generous people: who are willing to share what we have. And to do this with joy:
Let us learn to live more simply – so that others may simply live.