13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then 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. 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, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Money and possessions can all too easily dominate our thinking. This was certainly true in the case of a man listening to Jesus: ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me’ (12:13). Jesus had been speaking about life and death matters, but this man was thinking about an injustice that was gnawing within him. Without missing a beat Jesus asked: “Man who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” (12:14). Knowing how possessions can grip the human heart, he applied shock treatment: ‘Who do you think has given me this authority?’
The man had not thought about this. If he did think Jesus was a prophet who could adjudicate his affairs, he was in fact, inviting God to judge his own life. “Watch out!” Jesus said. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15).
Jesus wanted this man, as he wants all of us, to see that there is much more to life than money and possessions. He wants to free us from the domination that material things all too often have over our thinking and life. To make his point, Jesus told a searching little parable (12:16-20).
THE RICH FOOL
Jesus, the master story teller, painted the scene of a wealthy land-owner. As the parable fills out we see that the man was totally self-absorbed with his successes. He didn’t give a moment’s thought to the source of that success (God’s kindness) or the fragility of life. He spoke of ‘my crops,’ ‘my grain,’ ‘my barns,’ ‘myself,’ ‘my life,’ and ‘my soul’ as if he was completely in control (12:17b-19). Jesus wants us to feel the arrogance of this man’s self-satisfaction.
The man could choose how he would invest or use his wealth, but he failed to understand that his life was ultimately not his own (12:20). This is something we all have to recognize, for we all will need to give account for our lives. Indeed, as many have observed, if there were no accounting there would be no justice!
The future tenses of the verbs in Jesus’ story reveal a heart of greed and self-confidence. In response to his own question, ‘What shall I do,’ the man says, “…I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years… Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry’ (12:18-19).
The words of God’s verdict: “You fool” (12:20) are chilling! To be obsessed with things is stupid and myopic. None of us can speak with certainty about tomorrow let alone many years hence. Possessions are temporary and insecure and in any case, we can’t take them with us. ‘There are no pockets in a shroud’. Materialism doesn’t offer real security or lasting satisfaction. Jesus had turned the question of a self-centered man into a provocative moment in his life.
When J.D. Rockefeller died a journalist asked Rockefeller’s accountant: ‘How much did he leave?’ ‘Everything,’ he was told. In contrast to laying up treasure for ourselves, Jesus tells us that we should settle for nothing less than becoming rich in our relationship with God.
You may want to consider:
- the implications of the request of the man in the crowd and Jesus’ warning;
- your own response to Jesus’ parable;
- where your is life centered and what your priorities are.
Let me encourage you to pray
© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.
- Comments on the text of The Gospel of Luke are adapted from, John G. Mason, Luke: An Unexpected God, Aquila: 2012