A man in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a
share of our inheritance.’ ‘My friend,’ he replied ‘who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’
Then he told them a parable: ‘There was once a rich man who, having a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, “What am I to, do? I have not enough room to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say, to my soul: ‘My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” But God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?” So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’
In this Gospel Jesus uses an inheritance dispute, common at the time, to warn against greed and covetousness. ‘Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’ This teaching, like so many, is presented in the form a parable.
The rich man in the parable is described as a foolish man because he planned only for his material future, presuming that he had a long life ahead of him. It was to be a life of comfort, security and pleasure, a life of material reward not spiritual investment. The man is not only foolish however, but ostensibly greedy as there is only reference to the storing of crops, not their sharing. The man plans not only to shut others out but God as well. Jesus warns against this obsession with material possessions and self comfort as one ‘stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’
The message of this parable is counter-cultural, both for Jesus’ time and today. We live at a time of corporate greed, ‘big business’, sweatshop labour and the destruction of natural resources caused by the unrelenting pursuit of wealth. It is a time of many paradoxes, for example, we have large incomes but perhaps less values; bigger houses but smaller families.
A danger of our modern society is that we are often conditioned to be like the rich, but foolish man. We train ourselves to believe, not that we need clothes, but that we need fashionable clothes; not that we simply need a roof over our heads, but a spacious and elaborate home. We don’t fear that we will be poor, but that we will not be rich. And often we compromise our values in the process and perhaps our greatest compromise is our neglect of others and of God.
Jesus does not condemn the rich man for working, or for reaping a good harvest. The rich man’s mistake was not his work or his wealth; his mistake was his attitude towards his wealth, an attitude of greed. Instead of thanking God for his success and sharing the abundance with the poor, he turned his mind away from God and others and towards self-indulgence. He put his faith in the harvest, instead of in the Lord of the harvest.
Unlike the rich but foolish man we should not store up our treasures on earth but rather love others and have faith in God so as to build up our treasures in heaven.