Luke 12:13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool
In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus told a parable about a man who had riches to a man who wanted riches. A man in the crowd approached Jesus as an authority figure that the man’s brother might listen to. He asked Jesus to tell his brother to give him his share of the family inheritance. The family inheritance was much more important to first century Israel than we can imagine–it meant their future. In Deuteronomy 21:17, Moses gave them the law of birth right that the oldest son got a double portion of the property and money, and became the head of the family business. It was very common for the oldest son to “hold out” on the other children. Also the oldest son might not liquidate the family farm or business, so the other children had to work for him to get any money. Jesus was teaching deep spiritual truth, and eternal matters, yet He was interrupted by someone whose concern reflects human nature which is obsessed with riches. Jesus had been teaching about sin, hell, grace, and forgiveness, but the man was obsessed with getting his money now. The man thought Jesus could persuade his brother to cough up some money. This is where the guy’s heart was, but Jesus’ conclusion in Luke 12:31-34 would condemn this. Instead of arbitrating between the brothers, Jesus taught a parable illustrating the danger of greed and selfishness. The parable exposes the man’s motive and reveals Gods perspective on these matters.
This parable is especially important to us today because never before has any culture lived for the here and now of this present world than 21st century America. We are focused on the body and our material possessions. The seeking of entertainment and pleasure dominates life now as if that were our meaning and purpose. Someone wrote that any culture that pays athletes 20 million dollars a year, but pays teachers, policemen, firemen, and soldiers $30,000–50,000 a year is insane.
Jesus asked the question “Who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?” Jesus did not come into the world to be a probate judge of petty squabbles. Jesus cut quickly to the real problem the guy had. Jesus was interested only in his sin problem of greed. Jesus did come to settle the separation between God and man brought about by sin.
In v.15, Jesus gave an important warning about the dangers of greed. This consuming desire diverts our attention from what life is truly about, and then greed makes fools of us all. Most of the human race fantasizes and dreams of great riches. They dream of the life portrayed on TV and in the movies with palatial mansions, cars, clothes, servants, and vacations. Jesus made it clear that “life does not consist of possessions”. The Bible consistently teaches that this world with all its corrupt systems “is passing away along with all its lusts” (1John 2:15-17). All the stuff, the pleasures, and the lusts will be done away with, therefore it just makes sense to be more interested in what is eternal. We have all heard many times that money can’t make you happy, but we all want to test that for ourselves. Somebody said that money can’t make you happy, but it makes you less unhappy. My point is that no matter what we’ve been told about the dangers of greed, there is still great danger of all of us falling into that trap. Therefore Jesus told a parable about a worldly story they could understand in order to reveal a spiritual heavenly truth they didn’t understand. Since Jesus says in Luke 12:15 that life does not consist of your possessions, the question remains –What does life consist of?
The Rich Fool
In Luke 12:16, Jesus told them a parable about a man who was already rich, but still the riches kept flowing in. He had very productive land, and he had such a bumper crop that he had a problem that we all wish we had–he had so much stuff he didn’t have room to store it any more. Can you imagine getting a call from your bank saying, “You have so much money we can’t get it all in the safe anymore, so please come get it to put in a bigger bank vault”. In the parable, the man’s barns are overflowing, so future planning is required. What will he do with such an abundance? Shall he give some away, or shall he hoard it all? Hoarding would take some planning and strategy. In his wisdom in tears down the old barns and builds new larger ones to store all his stuff. In verses 16-19, you can feel his exuberance as he reasons to himself his plans for the future. His joy was in his stuff, and his security was in his possessions. Notice that in these four verses he says “my” four times and “I” eight times. His life is pretty much all about himself, and he sees himself as master of his world, and seems to think he has control over his life. His presumption is that he has many years to live, and the land and crops are his to enjoy selfishly. He also lives as if there is no God, and God is not a factor in life’s meaning or the decisions he makes. There are no prayers, no seeking of council. He reasons to himself and determines to hoard it, and then later consume it on self indulgences. In his mind, his land, his possessions, and his life are heaven on earth. The trend is that the more successful a person is the more their focus is on the here and now, and the more they see their security in their riches.
There is an interesting human phenomenon called “the denial of death”. People live like they are not aware of death just like the man in the parable who says that he will eat, drink, and be merry for many years to come. People seem to have no eternal perspective, and they act like they are unaware of their mortality. This may be proven by someone’s sudden change of thinking when a doctor tells them they have only six months to live. Suddenly their perspective and values change, and their possessions are not that important any longer. The man in the parable was a subscriber to the Epicurean philosophy that life’s goal and purpose is to seek pleasure and self indulgence, so he says he will eat, drink, and be merry.
Successful, Wise, and a Good Businessman
The rich man in the parable had every appearance of being wise, a good farmer, a good businessman, and a good planner. By worldly standards he had it all, and he had it made. Nevertheless Jesus called him a fool, so how was he a fool? Put simply, he was a fool in three ways. He mistook time for eternity. He mistook his body for his soul. He mistook what was his for what was Gods. He mistook his time because he had no control over his longevity, and we can all go at any time. He thought his time was his own to do with what he wants. In the parable God is in control over life and death, so God took him out that very night. Hebrews 9:27 tells us “it is appointed (by God) for men to die once and after this comes judgment”. The man had no provision or planning for his eternal life that is in Gods hands. The guy was a control freak, but he couldn’t control death, judgment, or eternity. Secondly, he thought his soul was his body, and he related it to eating, drinking, and partying. Thirdly, he confused ownership with stewardship. He thought all his land, possessions, and money were his, but Jesus said they are all created by God and owned by God. God graciously gives us possessions as a stewardship. God is not concerned with how much money you have, but how you use it. He is also concerned about how you use your stuff to express your devotion, passion, and love for Him. At the end of the day, a person’s life is the quality of his relationship with The Lord. The rich man in the parable is a fool because he had no relationship with the living God. In his planning he had no regard for the God that created him and all his stuff.
Three Mistakes of a Rich Fool
His life is defined by time, and longevity is not a guarantee. If I die today then today would define my life. His life is defined by his body, but his ability, strength, and beauty are fleeting and passing away. His life is defined by possessions, but ownership is not an option when you die. Jesus summed up the story in Luke 12:21, by saying that the person who lays up treasure for himself with no regard for eternity is not rich toward God.
King Solomon was the richest person who ever lived. His advice was to enjoy the fruit of your labor as a gift of God, and so we should, but what is the difference between Solomon and the fool in Jesus’ parable? There is a huge difference in enjoying what you believe God has given you and using it to also serve and glorify Him versus the fool who worships and loves money and bases his security on it.