The Parable of the Rich Fool
Autumn has settled in and slowed us down here on the Olympic Peninsula. The big-leaf maples are turning yellow. The rains have begun. It's the time of year that we gather our winter supplies and we cozy up together. We glean apples with friends from the unused orchards for cider pressing. We spend a good deal of time canning fruits and storing up the other beautiful vegetables from our garden. I enjoy taking the kids out to the state lands to cut wood for our firewood stack for the following winter. Both my wife and I just love this time of year. We drink a lot of tea and spend the darkening evenings warming up next to our wood stove. What a life, right? But doesn't Jesus call that sort of activity folly in the Parable of the Rich Fool?
One thing that I have learned about Jesus' teachings is that we all tend to water down his word so it will fit into our life rather than fitting our life into his. So, I certainly don't want to do that. For as tempted as I am to say, "Well, Jesus didn't really mean that for the work we're doing," I know he meant it for me also. I am a fool.
I readily admit that I have been a big fool in regards to the stockpiling I've done in the past, because I've done it for all the wrong reasons. In this series of teachings found in Luke, Jesus is helping us to understand our life's purpose and he's making it clear that worrying is not a personality trait of God's children, or a characteristic of his kingdom.
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.”
The fool in the parable from the start is defined as greedy. With his bountiful crop he expands his barn so he would have a place to stockpile his grain and goods. The fool then defines his personal purpose of life: "take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." The very next thing that happens is that the fool dies and Jesus explains what his purpose should have been: to be rich toward God.
How do we become rich toward God? He explains in verse 32 through 24, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourself that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
I love how he calls us the "little flock." That term of endearment expresses simplicity, humility, gentleness, even weakness. Those are the characteristics of his children. People of the world seek a very different definition: strength, capability, control, wit and strength. Jesus is telling us to seek the former. We seek the lesser and more will be given.
Just following the parable he also explains, "The pagan world runs after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well." Unlike the survival of the fittest story we're taught day in and day out, our purpose is not to toil and fight for our sustenance. Our purpose is to worship our creator. But it's more than that, we worship God not only by bowing down in humble adoration, but also by giving to the poor. Jesus tells us explicitly, "Sell your possessions and give to poor," which oddly enough is a direct means of seeking the kingdom and worshiping God.
More and more, I'm coming to believe that our purpose is to become poor in worldly wealth—literally. But am I ready to do that? I hope so.
The first step for me is to realize that the food that we store away will be not only for my family, but for anyone in need. Likewise, any wealth I have should be thought of as "for others" not for myself. That's where it begins. I'm just a caretaker. None of it is really mine. My life isn't even mine. As we learn in the parable, that's the last lesson the fool learned. His life and his possessions are God's.
The next step is to actually distribute our good to others—without looking back—knowing that the Father will use it for his purposes not mine.
Recently, I was talking with a friend who seemed excited about a three week job that I got. He sounded a bit giddy, "Think about the money you'll make." I remember cringing in my heart thinking, "That's the last thing I want to do, think about it," but I said to him, "I try not to even look at money. It has too much power over us."
If I was at my best, I would like for money to flow through my fingers like water on its way to someone who needs it more than I do. But I've got a long way to go to get there.