July 28, 2019 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Using Gifted goods for God.
Introduction: No New Testament writings deal more extensively than Luke-Acts with the dangers of wealth, the proper use of possessions, and concern for the poor. Today in the Gospel we hear the parable of the Rich Fool.
This story is introduced by a man coming to Jesus and demanding something of Jesus. Jesus does not accept to be either judge or divider. He first cautions the man against greed. As the parable will show it is not mere possession of material goods which will spell the downfall of the rich man but his constant desire for more which leads to surplus possession, which today we might call “conspicuous consumption” and “affluent style of life”.
There is a wisdom saying before the parable and one following it.
There is a structure to this parable around goods: in the first part goods are given “the rich man’s land produced a bountiful harvest”; in the center goods are stored, “I shall store all my grain and good things”; and at the end goods are left, “your life will be demanded of you¼to whom will they belong?”
The Rich man’s conversation with himself is at the center of the parable. His words reveal his greed and his isolation. His isolation is alarming. As a man of means he would presumably have a family, friends, slaves, tenants, and an extensive network of patrons, and clients. He asks himself, What shallI do¼ I do not have space¼I shall do¼I shall tear down¼I shall store¼I shall say to myself¼” The focus of his reflection is “my harvest¼my barns¼mygrain¼myself.” His solution is shocking. He has no thought of God or other people, planning to take his ease and indulge himself in food and drink and merriment.
The man’s plans are abruptly aborted when God interrupts. This is a shocking moment in the story—no other parable has a direct appearance by God. He calls the man, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you¼” The contrast between the complacency of the man with his riches and the danger they pose is enhanced by the phrase “demanded”. This was the word used for the collecting of loans. This man did not realize that his goods were a gift nor did he realize that his life was a gift. Both his goods and his life were on loan from God. God’s final question, “to whom do they belong?” takes us back to the person in the crowd who had asked Jesus to decide for him. The end result of the stockpiling is that the rich man has no benefit from his goods and his heirs are left haggling over it at his death.
The parable does not say what the rich man did when he was confronted in the night. Does he actually die? Does he repent and begin to store up heavenly treasure? The open ending is to be completed by the hearer.
The final wisdom saying tells us that we will end up like the rich and greedy man in isolation unless we store up treasure in what matters to God. In the verses which follow, reliance upon God and almsgiving are two ways to be rich toward God.
This parable, coupled with the reading from Colossians makes clear the dire consequences of greed. It is destructive of community as it brings conflict between brothers and sisters over ownership. It makes an idol out of possessions, so that one who stockpiles has no thought of the One to whom all things truly belong. It feeds delusion that power and salvation rest in one’s own accomplishments.
Competition and hoarding dissolve as cooperation and equal distribution become realities.
What application does this parable have for me as an individual, for me as a member of a family, for the community of nations?