The Parable of the Rich Fool is a warning by Jesus against greed – and a lack of generosity. As we read the parable – or any other parable or Biblical teaching – we should always try to see ourselves in it, as the object of the lesson.
“And he (Jesus) told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” 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?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:16-21
The plot is very simple. A farmer has an out-of-the-blue plentiful harvest. His first “problem” is what to do with it all. He naturally thinks of it as his own, so he figures the best thing to do would be to enlarge his existing barns so he can store it all. If he can, he won’t have to worry about working so hard anymore. But God has other ideas. The man dies before the construction can even be started. He loses his life and his fortune can’t save him.
The word covetousness comes to mind; in this case the man is covetous of his own possessions – that is, he becomes obsessed with preserving what he has for his own benefit.
This tendency shows up most often when we receive an unexpected windfall. That’s happened to all of us, at least once in our lives. The fault becomes a problem when we think we know how to handle the bounty; sometimes our choices aren’t the best, and sometimes they‘re the worst possible.
Jesus uses the story to show this flaw is really a sign that we don’t understand where our blessings come from. When we have a proper view of the source of good things that come to us, our decisions will be wiser.
Why he was called a “fool” by God
What makes the man foolish?
- He thought being wealthy was the same thing as being happy. He thought a nice life was one of lush worldly pleasure. After his bountiful harvest, all he wanted to do was “eat, drink and be merry.”
- He didn’t acknowledge he was not the true owner of his crops. The farmer didn’t recognize that he didn’t even own his soul.
- He was foolish in thinking the bumper crop changed his lifestyle from now on – to his own thinking, he had arrived!.
And there’s a bigger issue as well – he couldn’t see that his good fortune only made him want more wealth. He probably dreamed of his expanded barns being filled to capacity every harvest season to come. What looked like a wise provision for his future made him assume the good times would go on forever. Worse, he viewed the wealth of his harvest as his life’s security.
How the fool could have done it better
The fool asks, “What shall I do?” He’s obviously not taken much of a look around him. He could have considered many good uses to benefit the poor, the widows, the orphans, the homeless, and the hungry. Instead, he gave no thought to the needs of others. From what we’re told, he didn’t even give his workers a bonus!
Everything we posses in this life is “on loan” to us by God. We must show our gratitude by sharing some of it with others in the way that it’s been given to us. We can lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) by searching for ways to share our good fortune. We ought to be good stewards and spread our wealth and especially our unexpected profits around. Recall the popular saying, “You can’t take it with you.” Do we put that into practice?
The fool certainly didn’t.
He should have considered his ultimate destiny. This man forgot God, the fragility of life, the destiny of his eternal soul, and the needs of others. The parable tells us he said to himself, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But the parable also tells us what God was saying at that very same time – “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
The question we should always ask: Could this be me?
Whenever we read a parable, or some other biblical teaching, we should always try to see ourselves somewhere in the message. As human beings, we are fully capable of all the other behaviors – both positive and negative – of every other person on the planet.
In the parable, Jesus was describing a well-to-do farmer. Not too many of us are farmers today, but that certainly doesn’t invalidate the parable in any way. What are some ways that we could be like the Rich Fool by today’s standards?
- Spending most of your money building a more comfortable/lavish lifestyle.
- Obsessing on retirement savings (a heresy on a personal finance blog, but anything can become an idol.).
- A felt need to trade up on your house or car every few years.
- Hoarding money with a sense that it will provide some kind of earthly salvation.
- A lack of generosity toward others, despite your own prosperity.
- Using prosperity as a shield to block out the cries and needs of others.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that anyone of us could have been the Rich Fool in Jesus’ parable. If you can ever see yourself in this parable – and we all should – we might instead try to respond to our prosperity, and especially to unexpected windfalls, something like this:
- Acknowledge and be thankful to our Provider. Grasp that we were blessed through the grace of God, and not our own works.
- Seek ways to be a benefactor to others less fortunate.
- Make certain your own basic needs are taken care of, then be willing to “re-invest” into the needs of others.
- Search out ways to honor God with the good He has given us.
Having prosperity in our lives – and especially a sudden windfall – can be exciting, comforting, and reassuring. But we should also be fully prepared to handle it in a godly way. As it says in Luke 12:48, “…for from everyone to whom much is given, much shall be required…”
We can easily see when others are being the “Rich Fool”, but do you ever get a sense you may be flirting with the role too? From a spiritual perpsective, it’s healthy to consider the possibility.
Kevin is the founder of outofyourrut.com who writes many thought-provoking articles on subjects such as Faith, finance, and self-employment. I really admire his subject matter and writing style, and hope you find it as inspirational as I do.
James Hendrickson is an internet entrepreneur, blogging junky, hunter and personal finance geek. When he’s not lurking in coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, you’ll find him in the Pacific Northwest’s great outdoors. James has a masters degree in Sociology from the University of Maryland at College Park and a Bachelors degree on Sociology from Earlham College. He loves individual stocks, bonds and precious metals.