The Rich Fool

By David -

March 27, 2012

Parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: The Rich Fool 

During the week in which Facebook finally filed its paperwork for the most anticipated initial public offering since Google, and the news media was buzzing over the number of millionaires that the Facebook IPO would create, my small group Bible study just happened to be discussing the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-34. This parable, presented amidst an inheritance dispute which the Lord wanted no part of, tells the story of a farmer whose bumper crop brings him great wealth overnight and causes him to decide to indulge his soul in retirement. But his retirement lasts less than one day; he expires and his accumulated wealth cannot compensate for his personal deficit toward God.

Every parable of Jesus is timeless in its own right, but this parable seems particularly relevant in these economically desolate times where reports of great wealth capture the public’s fascination and envy. To be sure, this rich man was in the 1%. But this parable is not merely a warning to the 1%, but also to the 99% who dream of one day becoming part of the 1%.

The following are some of the key phrases that stood out to me from this recent reading of the portion:

 …no one’s life is in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15)

We are a materialistic society and we value people based on their possessions. This is somewhat understandable as possessions can be a proxy for achievement, success, ingenuity, hard-work, etc. But all of those things, and whatever spoils they bring, do not constitute one’s life. Interestingly, the word for life here is not bios (referring to one’s physical life) but zoe, the inner, spiritual life. This little word indicates that what concerns the Lord is one’s intrinsic life (or zoe) as measured before God and not one’s outward situation as observed by men.

…Soul, you have have many goods laid up for many years; rest, eat, drink, be merry. (12:19)

The rich fool actually converses with himself (vv.17-19) and arrives at the conclusion that due to his bumper crop he can live a life of leisure and pleasure. The key word in this conversation is soul, appearing three times in verses 19-20. The rich fool’s decision was motivated by his soul and served ultimately to reward his soul. The rich fool’s decision was not merely to retire, but much more: it was a conscious, reasoned decision to enjoy his soul in the present age.

The rich man’s decision is actually a vivid illustration of Luke 9:23-25:

“And He said to them all, If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake, this one shall save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?”

The rich man made a decision to save, that is, to gain, to enjoy, to indulge, his soul in this age. But what he gained he so quickly lost. The parable reaches its haunting climax: “this night they are requiring your soul from you” (Luke 12:20). This graphically illustrates an important principle: he who gains his soul in this age will lose it in the next.

Another way to look at it is that every person will gain their soul-life at one point or another. The choice is not if, but when: in this age or the next age? The choice and responsibility is up to us.

As a side note, the rich fool’s retirement lasted less than one day. Perhaps this underscores the fleeting immediacy and inexorable brevity of the pleasures of the soul.

…not rich toward God (12:21)

The rich fool’s accumulation of material riches could not compensate for his personal deficit toward God. He was rich by every standard except the one that matters. He was weighed in the scales, and found to be lacking.

But what does it mean to be rich toward God?

I believe the rest of the Bible is needed to explain what it means to be rich towards God. But I like one simple yet profound answer: to be rich towards God means to enjoy God as our riches. This is actually a great and mysterious theme running throughout the entirety of the Scriptures. Perhaps it is most explicitly revealed in Ephesians 3 where Paul writes that his gospel is to announce “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

We may say that this parable actually shows us two contrasting economy’s: the human economy which is focused on the temporary enjoyment of material riches and the economy of God which is focused on enjoying the unsearchable riches of Christ.

God desires to dispense and impart Himself into us to be our riches each day. While we are busy at our respective professions earning a proper living according to God’s arrangement, let us remember to enjoy Christ as our riches. The Lord is rich to all who call on His name (Rom.10:12).

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