The parable of the rich fool is one of the many parables Jesus taught about the idea of money. Money is one of the most mentioned subjects Jesus teaches on and it is interesting to think about why this is. This parable describes a man who thinks just like we do and it is a very personal parable to apply. Let’s read and be inspired by this parable.
This parable takes place in Luke 12:13-21. You can read the parable here and then come back when you have read the parable.
Now that we have read the parable, let’s construct a general idea about some context to better understand how this parable plays into the story. Jesus is teaching a large crowd of people, “many thousands” according to v.1 of chapter 12. While Jesus is teaching, someone in the crowd says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (v.13). You can see how this would play out. Jesus is a well-respected teacher in the eyes of many who are following him and he may be thought of as an “authority figure”. Two brothers are arguing over an inheritance and the one wants to keep it all for himself. The other brother, being jealous, goes to Jesus so that he can come back and tell his brother, “See, even Jesus says I should have a share in the inheritance”. Of course, this is all speculation but it is a plausible scenario. This happens in our day all the time except we call it being in “court”. This man wants part of the inheritance and he wants Jesus’ approval that he is right and his brother is wrong.
Jesus’ response to the man is basically, I am not your judge. Then Jesus warns and tells them that they should be on guard against greed and that life is not about inheritances or possessions or wealth. The parable that Jesus then tells is about a rich man who had good crops. He then realizes that he has no place to store the good crop that has been produced. So what does he do? He does what anyone who had the means would do, he builds bigger storehouses. If there’s not enough room, build bigger housing spaces so you do have the room. He will build even larger storage units and this way, he won’t have to work. He will take life easy, because he has so much food and it will be a splendid life.
At this point in the parable, the listeners are thinking, “Yeah, this guy has a pretty good life.” Then Jesus says, “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?’” Why would God say and do this? Why would he call him a fool and demand his life from him? The answer lies in the warning Jesus had just given, the warning of greed. Jesus says that “this is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (v.21).
Greed is what gets in our way of becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus. Greed is what made the man in the crowd tell Jesus about his brother and greed is what made the rich man build bigger barns. You may be asking, does this mean we can’t have anything nice? Does this mean we can’t have anything? Of course not. The man in the parable already had food and we know this because he didn’t have the room to store the crop in the ground. Instead of giving all his extra crop to the poor and those who were hungry, he decided to keep it all to himself, thus increasing his selfishness. Our world tells us that life in wealth and possessions, but God’s kingdom has an upside-down way of looking at things. God’s kingdom is not about what you do for yourself, but what you do for others and ultimately, God.
Greed is what stops us from wanting to help others or using our wealth for God’s glory. Greed is a trap that looks safe and secure but it leads to destruction and despair in the end. 1 Timothy 6:9 says that greed brings “ruin and destruction”. Proverbs 11:24 I think really sheds light on what happens when we give and what happens when we are greedy and hold on. “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.” (Proverbs 11:24). When we give, God will give abundantly. Yet, when we hold on to what we have and don’t give and are greedy, we fall into this trap of only wanting more. It is the same trap that this rich man fell into in our parable. It’s the same trap the brother fell into who spoke to Jesus and it is the same trap we fall into. Greed is this downward spiral that grips tighter and tighter as we fall.
Our ultimate escape from greed is giving. If we want to free ourselves of always wanting more, we have to break the habit of gaining and start the habit of giving. Jesus said that we cannot have two masters (Matthew 6:24). We cannot love God and want money and wealth more and more. We have to choose. The money and wealth is tempting. It’s here, it’s attainable and we can see it. But it is ultimately a trap that tightens its grip with every thought. Choosing Jesus is an escape, it’s the freedom we need to break our greed and start the generous kingdom-act of giving.