The Rich Fool

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  God loves a cheerful giver.”

  Paul, II Corinthians 9:6, 7

It seems that the ultimate risk is not to risk anything.  The church of Jesus should be bursting with creativity.  Instead it is far too often a bastion of boredom.  The church needs a theology of risk.

‘Sanctuary’ should not mean a place of safety from risks, but a safe place to take risks and a place to deepen a risk-all faith.  If you want a quiet life, a life of peace and contentment, then don’t follow Jesus.  If you want a safe life, a life of security and caution, then don’t follow Jesus.  If you want a life that is all mapped out, a life you can plan and control, then don’t follow Jesus.

Faith is the opposite of control.

 Leonard Sweet, So Beautiful  

The Encounter

 13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 

 14Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 

 16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 

 18“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ 

 20“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?’ 

 21“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” 

Luke 12:13-21

Some Observations

Jesus continues to teach the crowd, contrasting his vision of the kingdom of God with that of the prevailing religious leaders of the day.  We left him admonishing those present to be most concerned by God’s complete knowledge of their every word, deed and thought, rather than having their outward optics judged by men.  With this in mind, we are left either struggling with fear over the idea that we can be virtuous enough to avoid God’s judgment or we can acknowledge our pervasive brokenness and reach for God’s mercy and grace found In Jesus’ coming judgment on our behalf in Jerusalem.  For those who choose the latter and become sons and daughters of God covered in Christ’s righteousness, such omniscience is recast as that of a loving Father who knows our every need and cares for us each day.

Someone then brings up a subject Jesus has much to say about.  His answer here outlines a comprehensive posture and philosophy on how we should view success and the resources we’ve been entrusted with.

Jesus’ response to the man’s question (about dividing inheritance) is that he is not the judge or arbiter between them, but this provides a natural entry point to discuss what underlies the man’s question.  Jesus is emphatic in his warning against greed: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 

If we take out the “not” between “does” and “consist” in Jesus’ following statement, we have a good rendering of a key precept of our culture: “A man’s life does [not] consist of the abundance of his possessions.”  With the addition of one small word, Jesus flips things completely on their head and uses a vivid illustration to underscore his point.

A rich man’s land produces a good crop, he tears down his barns to build bigger ones; then he stores away the wealth for himself and kicks back to eat, drink and be merry.  God says, “’You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Jesus concludes: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

If we start at the beginning of the story, we see that the man’s land produces a good crop.  The first mistake the man makes is taking responsibility for his “success,” when in fact the blessing of land, seed, rain, sun, tools and workers for harvest all come from God . . . not the man’s genius.  So it is with any resources or talents God gives us.  Pure gifts.

He compounds the error by hoarding the fruits of success completely for himself, tearing down his existing barns to build bigger ones (no, the original tear-down was not in Palo Alto . . . ).  Finally, he arranges his life so that the wealth he has amassed allows him to live an insulated, self-indulgent life, spending what wealth he has on his own desires (but wait, isn’t that the American consumerist way playbook?).  Jesus drops the hammer: It is God who is the giver not only of the man’s success and wealth, but of life itself and this very night the man’s life will be demanded from him.  

Flipping this around, we see the upside-down attitude to wealth Jesus teaches us.  We are to acknowledge the absolute danger of greed that lies deep in each of our flesh.  We are to acknowledge that any success or resources we are given come from God and not from our own cleverness, effort or genius.  God creates us, gives us each certain talents and provides the circumstances to apply these talents to produce fruit and resources.  Properly understood, this elevates our work to a higher calling infused with spiritual meaning, rather than something we compartmentalize as secular versus sacred.

Any resources are given are not to be hoarded or used to create an environment of impenetrable comfort for ourselves, but rather to be rich towards God.  Again, this creates transcendent purpose for our work.  It is not simply about rat racing for our own success or creating a personal safety net.  We glorify God in using our talents and resources to serve him by serving others with excellence, creativity and diligence.

We know that God does not need our money, but our money is to be used to love others as ourselves and to serve “the least of these” as if they are Jesus.  We are to live with open hands, creatively seeking ways to glorify God by blessing others with the resources God has entrusted us with.  

But shouldn’t we be concerned about the future and planning for it?  Jesus anticipates this question perfectly as we pick up with his next teaching tomorrow.


“Better than a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf where there is hatred.”

  Proverbs 15:17

A Prayer

“O my Strength, I watch for you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.  I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.  O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.” 

  Psalm 59:9, 16, 17