‘This very night your life is being demanded of you’
The Parable of the Rich fool
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that verbal expressions of anger are a violation of the Sixth Commandment forbidding murder: ‘If you say, “You fool,” you will be liable to the hell of fire’ (Mt. 5:22). So when we hear a parable in which someone is called a fool, we should sit up and take notice. In Scriptural terms, it is a very serious charge.
The charge is cast at a rich man who plans to expand his grain business by building larger barns before taking his ease, saying to himself that he will ‘relax, eat, drink, and be merry’ (Lk. 12:19). This story, like that of the Good Samaritan, is meant to set an example, although in this case a negative one. But to fathom the depths of its meaning, we first have to realize the ways in which the man was not a fool.
He was not a fool because of his business practices. He was not unjust, a thief or a fraud. Rather, he was prudent and conservative. Nor was he a fool because he planned ahead for his retirement. Indeed, he would have been heedless if he had not. It was not his practices, or his possessions, that led the heavens cry ‘You fool.’ It was his perspective on it all. He had been seduced by wealth.
We receive a clue to his misguided attitude when we realize that in this short parable, the personal pronoun ‘I’ appears six times, and the pronoun ‘my’ five times — my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods, even my soul. Here is a man whose very identify is tied up with his wealth and his status. His selfish hoarding, together for this desire to use his riches for the good life, demonstrated a thorough disregard for both God and neighbor. Without God’s gift of sun, soil and rain, what would have become of his efforts?
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain (Ps. 127:1)
He was without prayer, talking only to himself. He was without gratitude, congratulating only himself. He was without charity, planning only for himself. He remembered himself, but had forgotten the brevity of time and the inevitability of death. He expanded his holdings, but shrunk his soul. He was consumed by what he had, and neglected who he was. Jesus concludes:
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. (Lk.12:21)
With his wealth, the rich grain merchant had also acquired a certain arrogance. And this led in a practical way to an atheism in his lack of recognition of his dependence on God. Proof that he was a fool indeed.
Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ (Ps. 14:1)