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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

You Fool

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he 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 12:13-21

“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” So far this story could be told about any one of us! Everyone may reserve the word “rich” for someone who has more than they do – Andrew Mellon may have saved it for John D. Rockefeller – but to the eyes of those to whom Jesus told His story, the average American would easily deserve the title.

You and I are rich beyond the wildest dreams of most people on earth today, too. We’re rich in groceries, with freezers full of fresh vegetables in January. We’re rich in health with magic immunity, miracle medicines, and fabulous hospitals filled with Florence Nightengales for TLC. We’re rich in our gasoline horses that are faster and more comfortable than any camel or donkey. We’re rich in houses with huge staffs of mechanical servants to do the laundry and the dishes, clean our floors and give us whatever kind of weather we want indoors.

This parable of Jesus begins with a little bit of our own autobiography: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.”

What’s wrong with that? Nothing! It’s no sin to be prosperous, any more than it’s no virtue to be poor. Rags can result from laziness as easily as riches can be robbed. The starving man may be more selfish than the one who fills his garbage cans.

Jesus never condemned wealth. He called His followers away from full-time jobs. His shining hero, the Good Samaritan, was surely well-to-do. At least he had enough to pay for another man’s keep, and credit too to promise to pay the innkeeper any further bills. The Roman officer, who Jesus said had more faith than anyone He’d seen in Israel, had many servants and much goods.

Jesus was born in a barn, but the wise men brought Him treasure. He knew how to fast, but He believed in “eating and drinking” so much that critics called Him a “glutton” and a “winebibber.” He never took any vows of poverty. The robe He was wearing at the end of His life was fine enough for soldiers to gamble over it. And He was laid at last in the tomb of a wealthy friend.

But – when a rich person comes to the question (as every American must), “What shall I do with my money?” Jesus says, “Handle it with care!” The world says, “Don’t let it slip through your fingers.” Jesus said, “Don’t let it destroy your soul.” Money is not the root of all evil – the love of money is! It’s all right for a person to have things – but it’s not all right for things to have a person! If a person takes Christian precautions, money can’t hurt. But if a person is spiritually careless, money can devour him.

In this short parable, Jesus used a pretty strong word to describe this rich man who had his priorities turned around. God said to him, “You fool.” He called him a fool, a person without reason, short of mental sanity, lacking common sense, an imbecile – an idiot! A fool!

This parable catches a man in the act of being executed by his own estate. He made money hand over fist, and there was nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing in the parable that says he made it dishonestly. It was where he thought it came from and what he did with it that spoiled it!

He was a self-centered, immature fool. In 3 verses we find 4 “I’s”, 5 “my’s” and 4 “I will’s”! This rich fool thought all his belongings were really his! In the middle of all his wealth we see this egotist rubbing his hands with glee and saying, “My crops, my barns, my grain, my goods, my soul.” God, who supplied them all, wasn’t even in his thoughts. It never occurred to him that anyone else had anything to do with his success.

True, his ground had produced a good crop, but who had provided the fertile soil, the rain, the sun, and all of nature’s aids producing the harvests causing his barns to bulge? When his ship came in, he didn’t see the hand of God, so he couldn’t see why he should share the cargo with the rest of God’s unfed children. He selfishly assumed his surplus was his, with no strings attached, to salt away. Heaven rained on him, so he thanked himself and dammed it up. “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.”

This self-made farmer even called his soul his own! In our New International Version we read, “I’ll say to myself.” But in the original Greek we read, “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and be merry.’” And Jesus called him a fool, his foolishness consisting in his failure to recognize the source of supply. And that failure resulted in the loss of everything.

Some might applaud him for playing safe. God called him a fool for taking a chance. David tells us in Psalm 14, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” These words, “there is” have been added for clarification, but the original Hebrew reads, “The fool says in his heart, ‘No God.’” As if a fool is one who says, “No God for me!” Not actual atheism, denying the existence of God, but a practical atheism, denying any authority or direction of God. A life lived without God is a God-less life. It may be full of many things, but if it’s minus God it’s an empty life!

The man Jesus described may well have been a man of high morals. He appears to be a diligent, hard-working, thoughtful man with foresight. His great folly was that he was ignorant to the divine hand supplying his prosperity. He was blind to the fact that “Man cannot live by bread alone.” He forgot that behind the fruits, the corn, and all his possessions was God, the giver of every good and of every perfect gift. He failed to see himself as God’s steward of all these good things – that all of his goods were really God’s!

The man no more than said, “This is what I’ll do,” than God said, “No – this is what you’ll do, you fool, this very night you’re going to die!” Instead of barns, he had a burial! Instead of easy living, he had to account to God for his hoarded possessions. His death is no mystery; he simply burned himself out getting ready for the rainy day. I doubt if any minister intoned over his grave, “For as much as it hath pleased God,” for his death didn’t please God! The man died because he was a fool! A Godless fool.

And that was the tragedy. The tragedy wasn’t his untimely death. That was too bad, but not a tragedy. Sooner or later we all lose our life. Jesus, who got the most out of life, had little of it. But death is not the disaster. The disaster is to go to Hell! This man was a fool for selling his soul – a doomed fool.

While this man had nothing to say to God, God had plenty to say to him! And He condemned him for making three mistakes. First of all, he mistook the purpose of his life, thinking it consisted in the abundance of his material possessions. Paul could say, “To me, to live is Christ.” Further, he mistook the right use of his worldly means. Choosing his own will rather than the will of God as to what should be done with his means, he hoarded them up when it would have been wiser and more profitable to use them for the good of others. But perhaps this man’s most glaring mistake was negligence of the future. He preferred riches he could see and handle, to the unseen and eternal treasures laid up in Heaven. He assumed he’d live for many years, when the day of his boast was his last. He lost his barns full of goodies – and his soul! What a terrible end!

No wonder that Jesus, after telling this parable, went on to teach by contrast a more excellent way of life. He told His disciples to consider the ravens, and the lilies, and the sparrows, which His Heavenly Father cares for. If God, and not our goods, is first in our lives, then whatever He permits us to have – whether much or little – will be used as unto Him.

This parable is very sad. But sad to shock us into happiness, to make us stop and take stock in our attitude toward our possessions – while we still can. Jesus cared enough about you and me to tell us this story, and finally to hand over His life, to keep us from being fools. It was for our sake He said, “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in Heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”


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