Weekly Bible Devotional
“Godspell: The Parable of the Rich Fool”
February 9, 2020
Scripture for Sunday: Luke 12:13-21
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly.17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Notes on The Text:
Today’s parable was a response to a conflict between two brothers over possessions. This conflict is an example of how the drive for getting more possessions could bring so much pain into our world. The man in the story came to Jesus asking him to convince his brother to divide the inheritance with him. He was seeking something that was against the way people of that time practiced economics. In ancient Israel the oldest son was to receive a double portion of the inheritance, which in Greek, Kleronomia, means specifically, “real estate,” or land. This way the land, which was given freely to the people of Israel, would stay divided equally according to families and tribes. The man’s request of Jesus was an indicator of greed because what he wanted was his share of the land so that he could take it away and separate himself from the rest of the family. Ordinarily families kept the land and worked it together instead of dividing it up into small pieces that would not be able to support a whole family. What the brother was looking to do was going directly against the way the people of Israel were called by God to share the land. That was why Jesus refused to be an arbitrator between the brothers. He also challenged the man about his ways of greed. This was the reason for giving this parable.
The parable did not condemn wealth or good crops. It did not condemn good financial planning with the man wanting to build a bigger barn for more storage. The parable did not imply that the man was going to go to hell for all of this. What the parable hits hard on is the foolishness of greed and selfishness. The farmer in the parable talks to himself and the whole conversation is focused on his own interests: “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? I will do this.” The whole time the farmer is focused on number 1, himself. This is what provokes God to call the man foolish.
The gospel of Jesus Christ called people to reexamine their priorities and their cultural assumptions about money and life. Biblical scholar Ched Myers notes that, “The word “evangelism” comes from the Greek /euangel/ we translate as “gospel” or “good news.” In first century Hellenistic (Greek) society it was a term associated with the “secular media.” It was synonymous with imperial propaganda, announcing the birth or ascension to power of an emperor or a Roman military victory in the provinces. It is extraordinary that the early Christians used this term to describe both their story of Jesus (Mark 1:1) and Jesus’ own message (Mark 1:14). In a world in which the power and the reach of the imperial media was unrivaled, the early Christians expropriated the term specifically to challenge the dominant culture.” Issues related to money were among the most important themes with which Jesus dealt. In the Gospel of Luke, we have so many stories about Jesus teaching directly or indirectly about money because of its huge impact on people. To remind you of a few examples, think of the story of the Pharisees who are condemned because of their greed (11:39), the prodigal son, the parable of the unjust servant, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the story of the Rich Young Ruler, and the story of wealthy Zacchaeus and his generosity.
The greed and selfishness of the man in the parable are some of the strongest traps we fall into as human beings. Part of the struggle for us is falling for the “wisdom” of the world around us. We think that people are happy because they are rich or accomplished. We envy what they have and want to be like them. But Jesus cuts through all of our false wisdom to show us a way that truly makes us happy and not just us individually but also as a society.
The biggest problem with greed is the sense of lack of contentment in life that it produces within us. With greed, what we have now never seems to be enough, regardless of how much or how little we have. This also translates into thinking that we are never enough. Who we are at any given moment is not good enough! And this is not only limited to material possessions. Our sense of lack of contentment could be related to our experiences, accomplishments, self-image, or relationships. As a result, we end up chasing after illusions and even hurt ourselves, others and God’s creation to get what we think we want or need. Walter Brueggemann believes that the central problem in our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity and that this belief makes us anxious, greedy, mean, and un-neighborly. He says that we spend our lives trying to sort out this ambiguity. Many of us live into this myth of scarcity and claim it as our Gospel like John D. Rockefeller who believed we are born to consume, ‘We are not enough if we don’t produce, consume, and store a surplus of money and stuff. The more you have, the better your life will be. You can’t have too much.’”
The good news is the shift away from greed is possible when we live by the values of the kingdom of God and when we remember the eternal nature of life. The parable reminds us of our own mortality as a way to wake us up from the illusions of the world. I believe that the most radical message of the gospel (good news) from Luke 12 is the reminder that life needs to be lived with our view of the big picture in mind because that big picture includes our mortality and our transformation into eternal life. We don’t live forever on this earth. Yet, our worries about money and our planning often reflect a false sense of immortality. The man in the parable was reminded that all of his greed was going to come to a screeching halt with his death. This seemingly harsh reminder is needed in times when greed becomes one’s dominant way of life.
Try this exercise from Bernie Roth at Stanford. Answer one question at a time.
Imagine you have 10 min to live, what would you do?
And ten days?
And ten months?
And ten years?
And the rest of your life?
And so this week I would like to invite you to name before God anything that makes you feel like you are not enough or that you need more of something or someone in order to find contentment and peace.
Prayer of Detachment by John of the cross (1542-1591):
Deliver me, O Jesus
from the desire of being loved, from the desire of being extolled, from the desire of being praised, from the desire of being preferred, from the desire of being consulted, from the desire of being approved, from the desire of being popular.
Deliver me, O Jesus
from the fear of being humiliated, from the fear of being despised, from the fear of suffering rebukes, from the fear of being forgotten, from the fear of being wronged, from the fear of being ridiculed, from the fear that others may be loved more than I.
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire
that others may be esteemed more than I, that in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, that others may be chosen and I set aside, that others may be praised and I unnoticed, that others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should. Amen.