The Parable of the Rich Fool

Luke 12: 13-34

DIG: In response to the man’s plea, Jesus tells a parable. What is the man’s problem? His solution? Why is he a fool? Why was Messiah’s response so harsh? Was the problem wealth? The Lord gave two examples from nature about trusting God: sparrows and the wild flowers. Can you think of any others? In His application, what does Jesus teach about seeking the Kingdom?

REFLECT: Why should you trust YHVH instead of worrying? Explain how worry shows lack of faith? What are the rewards of seeking the kingdom of ADONAI, instead of personal gain? How do earthly riches differ from heavenly treasure? What is the secret of contentment? List some of the consequences of anxiety? What simple steps can believers take to avoid worry? What is the difference between planning ahead and worrying? How does this passage inspire you to trust God with your needs? In what concrete ways can we demonstrate our trust in God’s provision?

The one main point to the parable of the rich fool is that life does not consist in the abundance of material possessions, but in a relationship with ADONAI.

The background to this parable starts in Luke 12:1, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling one another. Jesus first began to speak to His apostles (see Hc – Warnings and Encouragements To His Disciples), but at some point someone in the crowd said to the Prophet of Nazareth, “Rabbi, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Traditionally a rabbi was not a clergyman but a teacher of Jewish values and custom; and as such, the authoritative judge or arbitrator who decided points of the Torah and ethics central to people’s lives. Only since the secularly inspired Haskalah, meaning enlightenment, of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have rabbis in the West been viewed alongside Catholic priests and Protestant ministers as peripheral figures in a supposedly secular “real world.” The Lord replied: Man, who appointed Me a judge or an arbiter between you (Luke 12:13-14)? Alluding to Exodus 2:14, where Moshe appointed himself ruler and judge over his fellow Israelites, Yeshua rejects the role of arbitrator.1033 Jesus did not come to reconcile such family disputes. On the contrary, His coming would at times divide families (see Hf Not Peace, But Division). What this person needed was not some legal ruling by a religious teacher but a basic understanding of how possessions relate to the purpose of life. Who one is . . . is far more important than what one possesses.

The Preceding Wisdom Statement. Evidently, Messiah regarded the questioner’s attitude to be typical so He addressed His remarks to the whole crowd: Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15). Are you in prison? You are if you feel better when you have more and worse when you have less. You are if joy is one delivery away, one transfer away, one award away, or one makeover away. If your happiness comes from something you deposit, drive, drink, or digest, then face it – you’re in prison . . . the prison of want.

That’s the bad news. But the good news is, you have a visitor. And your visitor has a message that can get you paroled. Make your way to the receiving room. Take your seat in the chair, and look across the table at the psalmist David. He motions for you to lean forward. “I have a secret to tell you,” he whispers, “the secret is satisfaction.” The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want (Psalm 23:1 NKJV). It’s as if David is saying, “What I have in ADONAI is greater than what I don’t have in life.” Can we say the same?1034

The First Stanza: God Gives. When Yeshua addresses the crowd, He is teaching His talmidim and those who believe in Him and have spiritual ears to hear. And He told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest (Luke 12:16). Jesus was dealing with a theme already well known in the literature of His audience (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11; Job 31:24-28).

The Second Stanza: The Problem. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops” (Luke 12:17). One of the more striking features of the traditional Near Easterner thought is his gregarious nature. Life is lived in tightly knit communities. The leading men of the village sit at the gate and spend literally years talking to one another. The slightest transaction is worthy of hours of discussion. The elder in the community makes up his mind in community. He does his thinking in a crowd. The text does not read: He said to himself. No, the rich man dialogues with himself. He obviously has no one else with whom to talk. He trusts no one and has no friends or confidants with whom he can exchange ideas. When he needs someone to talk to, he can talk only to himself. Therefore, we begin to get Jesus’ picture of the kind of prison that wealth can build. He has the money to buy a vacuum and live in it. Life in this vacuum creates its own realities, and out of this warped perspective we hear him announce his solution.

The Third Stanza: The Present Plan. The very climax in the third stanza is related to the beginning and the end of the parable. This is the turning point, for the rich man decides what he will do to solve his problem. Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build up bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain” (Luke 12:18). The language of tear down and build up is classical prophetic language that refers to the call of ministry of the prophet (Jeremiah 1:10). It speaks of the courageous acts in the name of YHVH that call for suffering in their fulfillment. Here this noble language is sadly cheapened by this self-indulgent rich man who is determined that he alone will consume God’s gifts. These gifts of surplus wealth have become “my grain and my goods.” Covetousness (see my commentary on Exodus Dt – You Shall Not Covet Anything That Belongs To Your Neighbor) arises from a false philosophy of life that says the greatest good in life is to acquire material possessions. Such a philosophy typified the Pharisees, who interpreted material prosperity as a sign of divine blessing. They expressed their philosophy in the saying, “Whom God loves He makes rich.”1035 It was in the barns that the tithes and offerings were set aside. The priests and Levites came to the barns to collect them. But our rich man has other things on his mind, as we will soon see.

The Fourth Stanza: The Future Plan. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). This speech is not necessarily sad, it’s just rather pitiful. This wealthy, self-confident man has arrived. He has made it. All that he has longed for has now been realized. He needs an audience for his arrival speech. But who is available? Family? Friends? Servants and their families? Village elders? Fellow landowners? Who will, “rejoice with me?” The father in the parable of the Prodigal son has a community ready at any moment to join him in a celebration of joy (Luke 15:22-24). The shepherd and the woman call their friends and neighbors to rejoice over the found sheep and coin (Luke 15:6 and 9). The gregarious Near Easterner always has a community around him. But this man? He can only talk to himself. The parable assumes a time lapse between stanzas four and five.

The Fifth Stanza: God Takes Away. The voice of YHVH thunders at him (presumably) after he has prepared his maximum security storage barns. Thus, after his arrival, he is confronted with the stark reality of the world he has created with his wealth. But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. The sting of the words lies, however, not in the announcement that he must die, but in the following question, which clearly shows the real poverty of his life. He is lonely and friendless in the midst of his vast wealth. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself” (Luke 12:20)? The reader already knows this. Now we see that it takes the voice of YHVH Himself to penetrate the rich man’s self-created isolation and confront him with a chilling vision of himself. There is no accusing question, such as, “What have you done for others?" He has no doubt developed impenetrable armor for just such an attack. Rather, God thunders, “Look what you have done to yourself!” You plan alone, build alone, indulge alone, and now you must die alone!1036

The Following Wisdom Statement. This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God (Luke 12:21). The phrase rich toward God is a synonym for treasures in heaven (see my commentary on Revelation Cc – For We Must All Appear Before the Bema Seat in Heaven). David said: The fool says in his heart, “There is not God” (Psalm 14:1), so, in effect, that’s what this rich man was saying. He had left God out of the picture.

The Application: Christ gave six reasons why they were not to worry about material possessions. First, turning to the Twelve, He no longer spoke in parables and said: So I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes (Luke 12:22-23). Sometimes we make life much harder than we need to make it. We rush around, working overtime to ensure that we have all the things we need and want. In a consumer-oriented society, Yeshua words about trusting ADONAI can easily be missed.1037 But Jesus said He would meet our needs. Of all His words in the Bible, Christ had more to say about money than any other topic. This section offers a good summary of His attitude. He does not condemn possessions, but He warns against putting faith in money to secure the future. Money fails to solve life’s biggest problems.

Second, He emphasized that all of God’s creatures are under His care: Consider the ravens. In contrast humans they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds (Luke 12:24)! He cares for them. Unlike the sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31), ravens were not sold because they are scavengers. There are other versions of this (add your favorite animal, fish or bird). Like, consider the bunnies, they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom of barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than bunnies (Luke 12:24 paraphrased)!

Third, the Lord reminded them that anxious care cannot change the situation. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? The assumed answer is, of course, no one. So it is ridiculous to worry. Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest (Luke 12:25-26)? Whereas the following reasons teach that the believer need not worry, the first three reasons teach that worrying is futile.

Fourth, Christ taught that people do not have the power to provide as wonderfully as God can. Again Jesus went to the natural realm to point out that God takes care of what belongs to Him. Consider how the wild flowers grow. Although the exact flower designated in the Greek is unclear, the meaning is not. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these (Luke 12:27: First Kings 10:4-7; Second Chronicles 9:3-6).

Fifth, if ADONAI takes care of the grass in the field, which has such a temporary existence, will He not take care of His own? If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire (better translated oven), how much more will he clothe you - you of little faith (Luke 12:28)! Wood was relatively scares in Isra’el, and grass was used for fuel to bake bread. In addition, grass frequently is used in the TaNaKh as a symbol for the transitory nature of life.

Sixth, He reminded them that they have a Father who knows what they need and will provide. And do not set your heart on, literally, do no seek, what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them (Luke 12:29-30). Literally, this means the unbelieving Gentile nations, who do not know God (First Thessalonians 4:5).

As an alternative to worrying, the Lord exhorted them to faith. But seek His Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well (Luke 12:31). Sometimes ADONAI is so touched by what He sees that He gives us what we need and not simply what we ask for. It’s a good deal for us because who would have ever thought to ask Messiah for what He gives? Which of us would have dared to say, “God, would you please hang Yourself on a tool of torture as a substitution for every sin I have ever committed?” And then have the nerve to say, “And after You’ve forgiven me, could You prepare for me a place to live in Your house forever?” Then, if that wasn’t enough, “And would You please live within me and protect me and guide me and bless me with more than I could ever deserve?” Seriously, would we ever have enough guts to ask for that? Yeshua already knows the cost of grace. He already knows the price of forgiveness. But He offers it anyway. Love burst His heart.1038

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom. This is accomplished through doing tzedakah, literally doing righteousness, but understood as giving to charity. That is, by not being selfish and sharing your wealth.1039 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out. Purses is a metaphor for the contents in them. In other words, one should not even attempt to use one’s earthly money to lay up treasure in heaven.But by being generous with your money, you will store up a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. Jesus is not against having wealth but against making wealth the center of your life. Christ reminded them of the bondage of such slavery and asked them to put their faith in YHVH so that they might become enslaved to Him. Yeshua added: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:32-34). One cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13), but one can serve God by the correct use of money.

One day a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the purpose of showing his son how poor people live. The spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son,

“How was the trip?”

“It was great, Dad.”

“Did you see how poor people live,” the father asked.

“Oh yes,” said the son.

“So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father.

The son answered, “I saw that we have one dog and they have four.”

“We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end.”

“We have imported lantern in our garden and they have the whole horizon.”

“We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.”

“We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.”

“We buy our food, but they grow theirs.”

“We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.”

They boy’s father was speechless.

Then his son added, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are.”

Many times, we forget what we have and concentrate on what we don’t have. What is one’s person’s worthless objet is another’s prize possession. It is all based on one’s perspective. It makes you wonder what would happen if we all gave thanks for all that we have instead of worrying about wanting more.


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