Many who hear this parable, especially may wonder: Why is the rich farmer called a fool? One could easily argue that the rich man is a wise and responsible person. He has a thriving farming business. His land has produced so abundantly that he doesn’t have enough storage space in his barns. So, he plans to pull down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his grain and goods. Then he will have ample savings set aside for the future and will be all set to enjoy his golden years.
Isn’t this what we’re encouraged to strive for? Isn’t it wise and responsible to save for the future? The rich farmer would have probably been 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?
Well, not exactly. There’s one very important thing the rich man didn’t planned for… 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?”
The rich farmer is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he appears to live only for himself, and because he believes that he can secure his life with his abundant possessions. 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’”
Do you see what’s going on here? 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. This farmer had 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.[I] You know, there’s a great saying that goes like this: “Greed destroys your soul while gratitude enlivens it, and grace expands it.”
So, what about us? Are we going to let greed destroy our soul? Individually? Collectively? As a people? As a nation? Or will we let our gratitude enliven and reform our thinking. Will we let grace expand our compassion, our love of neighbor; will we let grace expand our circle of caring? I read somewhere this week that “God’s people are not to accumulate stuff for tomorrow but rather to share indiscriminately with the scandalous and holy confidence that God will provide for tomorrow. Then we need not stockpile stuff in barns especially when there is someone in need.”[ii]
Now, please don’t misunderstand me here. It’s not that God doesn’t want us to save for retirement or for our future needs. It’s not that God doesn’t want us to “eat, drink, and be merry” and enjoy this life. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent time eating and drinking with people and enjoying life.
But all of this, in my mind anyway, finally boils down to one thing: priorities. How we spend our time, invest our money; how we use all the talents that God has given us speaks to our priorities. So, in light of all of this, here’s the question I believe I need to ask myself every morning when I wake up: “Will my priority today be primarily focused on myself and my passing desires, or will my priority be fixated on loving God by loving, and caring for, and being kind to, my neighbor; all my neighbors? Will my priority today be to participate in God’s mission of justice and peace for all people and all of creation in whatever way I can? Will my priority today lead me to think of the other before self?
One final thing today. As I was researching this text for today, I can across a sermon preached by Dr. Martin Luther King in Chicago around 1967. And in it, Dr. King said these words: “I’d like for you to look at this parable with me and try to decipher the real reason that Jesus called this man a fool. Jesus called this man a fool because he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. You see, each of us lives in two realms, the within and the without. Now the within of our lives is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, religion, and morality. The without of our lives is that complex of devices, of mechanisms and instrumentalities by means of which we live. The house we live in—that’s a part of the means by which we live. The car we drive, the clothes we wear, the money that we are able to accumulate—in short, the physical stuff that’s necessary for us to exist.
Now the problem is that we must always keep a line of demarcation between the two. This man was a fool because he didn’t do that. …he allowed the means by which he lived to outdistance the ends for which he lived. This man was a fool because he allowed his technology to outdistance his theology. This man was a fool because he allowed his mentality to outrun his morality. Somehow, he became so involved in the means by which he lived that he couldn’t deal with the way to eternal matters. …he looked at suffering humanity and wasn’t concerned about it.[iii] Dr. King was awesome, wasn’t he?
But anyway, this text, this condemnation of greed, is finally another reminder from Luke about the importance of social justice; of the importance of putting the other before self. It’s a reminder that wholeness and healing and restoration don’t come from having a lot of stuff; restoration, true restoration is found in community. Community with God and with each other.
May it be so for you and for me. Amen and the people of God said, Amen.
[i] Elisabeth Johnson. Commentary on Luke 12:13-21 (www.workingpreacher.org) 2019
[iii] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool Sermon Delivered at Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago Illinois. c. 1967 (www.kinginstitute.stanford.edu)