There are some biblical passages that are so familiar that I’m tempted to skip through them on the assumption that I’ve already learned that lesson. Alas, the truth is that all too often all I’ve done is think about them, without actually doing anything about them (a particular temptation for introverted intuitives, I believe!). One of those passages is the Parable of the Rich Fool. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here it is (you can find it in Luke chapter 16):
‘Someone in the crowd said to (Jesus), “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
‘Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
‘And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
‘“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
‘“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?’
‘“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”’
Jesus sandwiches this parable between two powerful and categorical statements. The first is a warning to be on our guard against all kinds of greed, because ‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’. Today, of course, there is a powerful advertising industry dedicated to convincing me that that’s exactly what life consists of (not to mention politicians who tell is it’s our patriotic duty to consume more and more in the service of the false god of The Economy). This all ties in to the idolatry of my greed; the delusional state in which i think, “I’ll be happy if I can just have…” (insert your own preferred next purchase here). This is delusional, because none of the stuff we’ve bought so far has made us happy; it’s just made us more fixated on burglar alarms.
Jesus addresses this issue by setting it in the context of eternity. When we meet our Maker face to face, the size of the bank account our relatives are fighting over won’t make a blind bit of difference. But there are things we can focus on, right now, that will make a huge difference on that day: loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. This is true wealth, Jesus says; this is what he means at the end by ‘being rich toward God’.
So Jesus ends with the second categorical statement: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” God, please help me not just to think about this, but to practice it: not to accumulate more and more stuff, but to focus on the things that truly matter in the light of eternity. Amen.