The Parable of the Rich Fool 13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “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.”
Jan Richardson Blessing That Becomes Empty As it Goes
This blessing keeps nothing for itself. You can find it by following the path of what it has let go, of what it has learned it can live without. Say this blessing out loud a few times and you will hear the hollow places within it, how it echoes in a way that gives your voice back to you as if you had never heard it before. Yet this blessing would not be mistaken for any other, as if, in its emptying, it had lost what makes it most itself. It simply desires to have room enough to welcome what comes. Today, it’s you. So come and sit in this place made holy by its hollows. You think you have too much to do, too little time, too great a weight of responsibility that none but you can carry. I tell you, lay it down. Just for a moment, if that’s what you can manage at first. Five minutes. Lift up your voice— in laughter, in weeping, it does not matter— and let it ring against these spacious walls. Do this until you can hear the spaces within your own breathing. Do this until you can feel the hollow in your heart where something is letting go, where something is making way.
Luke frames our parable this way: a brother is concerned that he is not getting his fair share of the family inheritance. My New King James Version, Cultural Backgrounds Bible notes that, “Inheritance disputes were common (though far more among Gentiles) and they sometimes divided families. Although in Jewish teaching the eldest son received a double portion (Deut. 21:17), disputes still arose and rabbis, as experts in the law, were sometimes called to resolve them. For Jesus to treat a normally legitimate legal recourse here as a sign of greed seems to radically value relationships over property.”
That is what Jesus does, places emphasis and value on relationships over property. We, many of us anyway, sure have a hard time with that. We want to be treated fairly. And we want others to be treated fairly. That may be why many of us give our time and our talents to this church in the local, national, and international settings. We work for peace and justice. We work to end food insecurity. We work to ensure health care for all. We work so that all have adequate housing options. All of this is good, of course. Jesus worked for peace and justice too.
So then, why does Jesus blow off the request for help in receiving a share of the family inheritance? It seems his (Jesus’) focus is not on ensuring that we get an equal share, or even a fair share. Jesus’ concern was far deeper. His concern was for how the desire for monetary inheritance was getting in the way of relationship with God. Where was the young man’s heart? Where are our hearts? How does this parable speak to us? Does it matter if we are the one asking for money or the brother seemingly in control of the purse strings? Both would do well to examine their hearts. As would we. I originally heard this parable directed to the brother controlling the purse strings, but I soon heard it differently. It is for all of us, whomever we may be. In need, in want, with enough, having plenty, having excess. Whatever our situation, we need to open our hearts to God. When we let go of earthly desires our hearts have room to be filled by God, to become rich with God.
The disturbing truth of the parable is that it does not matter to Jesus during this exchange whether or not this person receives their fair share of the family fortune, whatever that may be.
Jesus’ priority is not earthly riches but spiritual riches.
What does it mean to be “rich toward God”? Let’s work toward the answer by exploring the three G’s of this parable according to graphic artist Bertram Poole. The three g’s of (1) greed, (2) gratitude, and (3) generosity.
One can immediately see the progression in Bertram’s thinking. Ideally, this parable helps us move from greed to gratitude to generosity.
#1 Greed. Can we recognize in ourselves the self-centeredness that takes up space in our being? Wanting more than we need? Consuming more than our fair share of natural resources to the detriment of others? Wanting more creature comforts for ourselves knowing that others do not have enough? How do we do better?
#2 Practice gratitude. Do we remember to take time out during the day to express gratitude for our circumstances? Perhaps at breakfast, lunch, and dinner if we are fortunate enough to eat that frequently. Perhaps as we put our heads on our pillow at the end of our day – again – supposing we have the stability of a home and a bed. Or at random moments throughout the day and night as we pause to give thanks for the constant presence of God with us.
#3 Generosity. How often do we consider the needs of others? Annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily, hourly, with every breath we take? Are our offers of generosity made after consulting our financial planner or our spouse? Does taking it to God in prayer play into our decision making, first, last, or at all?
Where does generosity begin? From excess? From enough? From the heart?
How would you or I, how do you and I respond if put in the situation of the landowner in this parable? Are we also, fools? Confusing, or substituting earthly riches for rich relationship with God? Are we hoarding more than we can ever, ever hope to need? Are we making decisions based solely on our wants and needs or do we consider the wants and needs of the widows and orphans, the less fortunate, the stranger or the foreigner?
I want to mention a couple of stories that caught my attention this week where news met scripture.
Internationally – Russia chooses to build a bigger barn. Currently the world’s largest producer of grain, Russia is withholding grain exports to countries in food crisis. Russia, and its leadership team are fools, dangerous fools, purposely storing and hoarding what others in the world so desperately need.
Nationally – Another bigger barn story – Driven by corporate greed, Montana milk regulators have created a monopoly for Montana farmers, causing unnecessary waste of milk by requiring that it be pulled off shelves @ 12 days after pasteurization rather than the scientifically supported 22 days after pasteurization. These large corporate farms, which account for approximately 90% of dairy production in Montana, originally bought back the “expired” milk, which was still good for another 1-1/2 weeks and turned it into cheese products. These large farms have since quit all production other than milk, causing the still good but legally unsellable product to be wasted, wasting not only the milk, but the more than 4 gallons of water that goes into producing each gallon of milk. Much of the Montana milk pulled from shelves after 12 days is destroyed rather than being donated to a food pantry.
God help us.
None of this is simple. Our world and local economies are complex systems. What can we do? We can all approach our decision making and encourage our government leaders to approach their decision making, with open and generous hearts. Decisions that consider the greater societal good rather than focusing on individual profit and gain.
What can we build instead of bigger barns? We can build stronger communities.
The farmer in the parable doesn’t need a bigger barn. He needs a bigger heart.
Abundance is not the problem. How we choose to make decisions around abundance is what is at issue.
Note the pronoun “I” throughout the parable. It seems the landowner was thinking only of himself throughout the decision-making process of solving his dilemma of having too much. When we find ourselves with abundance and ask the question, “What should I do?” may we remember to consider others in addition to ourselves. Who needs this more than me? How can I be part of the food/clothing/housing/healthcare solution? How much is enough? How much is too much?
What should we do? Sometimes we are like the person in the parable. We talk only to ourselves; we consider only ourselves. May we remember to talk with God before arriving at solutions to our dilemmas. May we talk with and consider those intimately familiar with need and want and lack to better understand what helpful solutions might look like.
There is another “bigger barn” story where life meets scripture. The Ellsworth Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry is building a bigger barn. This bigger barn is not for “I” but for “we.” This bigger barn is not for hoarding but for sharing. This bigger barn has nothing to do with greed and has everything to do with gratitude and generosity.
This bigger barn is rich with God.
May we all be rich with God.
Rev. TJ Mack – July 31, 2022