13 Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15 Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ 21 Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
22 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life — whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. 23 For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. 24 Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! 25 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 26 And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things? 27 Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 28 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
What was that guy thinking, asking Jesus to help divide his dad’s estate? Jesus let him off easy, he could have told both brothers to give it all to the poor. (Then again, Luke clues us in that this guy was not interested in being a disciple: he calls Jesus ‘teacher,’ not ‘Lord.’)
This leads to the parable of the rich fool and perhaps the sharpest rhetoric we have seen in Luke so far. At first glance it may be difficult to determine where the rich man’s fault lies. Securing his own position and consolidating his power within his community are actions quite in line with the values of his day and our own. He owned the land and grew the crops, weren’t they his to store for a later day (when he could sell them at a higher price) if he wanted? His own security, however, comes at the direct expense of those in his regional economy, who will likely become more dependent on the rich man when less abundant crop seasons come around.
The rich man decides to eat, drink, and be merry but the invitation is directed solely at himself. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus has already instructed his followers to do. The disciples have been taught to give freely without expecting any return. This wealthy landowner, by contrast, is closed off from other people refusing to practice justice, which we have already seen equated to sharing the love of God towards all people. We can see that other people are not a concern for the rich fool, because Luke constructs the parable so that there is no one else there. The rich fool speaks only to himself and claims personal ownership of every object he names, he does not even have someone to make merry with (and it is just plain weird that he calls himself friend). His complete lack of community is both a cause and product of his foolishness.
Jesus did not call his followers to live in such isolation, or with the fear-based worry that leads to such hoarding. We tend to hear a lot about the problem of greed in our culture, but I don’t think we hear enough about the underlying fear that drives much of it. Even the eating, drinking, and making merry are often attempts to cover, dull, or drown out a gnawing fear, an insatiable insecurity. We don’t have to live in such fear. We don’t have to hoard today’s crops, God will send more. We don’t have to worry. We can dress like flowers and eat like birds and enjoy the love of God among actual friends.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.