When Christ came to earth to live among men, he came to a world filled with greed, and this greed evidenced itself in conflicts and disputes over resources similar to those we hear about today. As he taught the people about God and their souls and how to live in this world, Christ stressed the need to live in dependence on God. He reminded them that God takes care of all those who love and fear him. If God does not forget the sparrows, would he forget his disciples? He wouldn’t forget them in the needs of their daily lives, nor would he leave them in more dire situations.
This promise of help triggers a thought in someone in the crowd. This man had a dispute with his brother. He got the idea that Christ might be able to help him in this situation. Perhaps Christ would take his side, and his brother would have to give up the part of the inheritance he was claiming as his own. And so he blurted out, ‘Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me’ ((v13).
The man had not truly understood a word of what Christ was saying. True, he was listening to Christ, but ultimately he had no spiritual need for him. He needed his help only with the financial conflict in which he was involved. In this, he is like so many so-called Christians who hope that their Christianity will be able to help them get ahead in life.
With perfect wisdom, Christ refused this man’s request. Why did he do this? The man’s question showed a heart attitude that was the opposite of dependence on God. He might have appeared to be depending on Christ by coming to him with this request, but Christ was just a means to an end for him. His inheritance was his goal and idol, and, ironically, he felt he needed Christ to get his idol back into his possession.
By way of the parable of the rich fool, Christ poignantly taught the folly of a life lived for earthly goods. It is a story about a wealthy landowner who made two fundamental mistakes. First, he thought too much about himself; second, he thought too little about the future. Cleverly Jesus painted the picture of the man’s selfishness. Using a descriptive string of first-person pronouns (vv17-19), Jesus pointed out the foolishness and fallacy of the man’s obsession with himself and his success, and his failure to realize the temporary nature of life – or even the ultimate source of all good things. Jesus painted a picture of arrogant self-satisfaction. And before the crowd could envy the landowner, they discovered what a fatal mistake he had made. There are far too many variables in life for anyone to have this kind of certainty.
Sure, the man could choose how he invested or used his wealth, but he failed to understand that his life ultimately was not his own: ‘Your life, your soul, will be demanded from you,’ Jesus concluded, ‘much sooner than you expect’ (v20, paraphrased). Jesus’ words here convey the idea of calling in a debt. Life is not ours to do with as we want: it is something for which we all have to give an account.
Jesus’ story unveils the heart of human greed and confidence. The future tenses of the verbs reveal the man’s self-deception. In response to his own question, ‘What shall I do?’ he said: ‘I will do this and this and…’ then he concludes: ‘I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’ (vv18-19).
But God’s verdict is, ‘Fool!’ (v20). What a chilling epitaph. To be obsessed with things is the ultimate foolishness. None of us can speak with certainty about tomorrow, let alone many years from now. Possessions are temporary and insecure. We cannot take them with us. Materialism offers neither real security nor true and lasting satisfaction.
In the movie Up in the air, George Clooney’s character lives a life committed to getting his 10 million air miles. He sees relationships as being insignificant compared with the prestige associated with the silver card engraved ‘Ryan Bingham #7’. And when it is handed to him mid-flight by the captain, along with a public announcement and champagne, he realizes it is all meaningless.
‘Where is your life centered – on God or on things?’ is Jesus’ implied question in the parable (v21). ‘What are your priorities?’ Jesus had turned the question of a self-centered, thoughtless man into a disturbing moment in his life. In contrast to laying up treasures for ourselves, Jesus tells us we should settle for nothing less than becoming rich in our relationship with God. Then in his follow-up teaching, Jesus reveals for us what he means to become rich in our relationship with God.
Join us this Sunday as we look at the parable of the rich fool found in Luke 12:13-31. Invite others to join you. Pray for the continued work of God’s Spirit in our fellowship.
Grace to you,