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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 8/1

Was he a fool or was he just unlucky? Jesus called the man in the parable a fool, but it seems that from our perspective you could argue that he was just unlucky because what he did wasn’t a whole lot different than the kind of financial planning for the future that we are all encouraged to do. He worked hard and set enough aside so that when the time came he could relax and enjoy life. We all know people or we’ve heard stories about people who have worked hard and saved money only to drop dead two weeks after they retire but we don’t call them fools. Nobody’s guaranteed tomorrow, we know that; you can’t plan for every eventuality, we know that too. But that doesn’t mean you don’t plan. We would say the fools are those who fail to do so.

If the farmer in the parable was just planning and saving only to then die unexpectedly I don’t think Jesus would have called him a fool. He would just see him as unlucky the same as we do. I think the mistake that’s made with this parable is viewing it as the keynote of a financial planning with Jesus seminar. Jesus wasn’t working for Thrivent or Edward Jones or anybody else. This isn’t intended as practical financial advice anymore than Jesus’ parables that talked about sowing seeds and growing crops and then harvesting those crops were intended as practical farming advice. Others knew more about all that than he did so there’s more going on here.

To get at this parable I think it helps to remember the lead in to it which is the request for Jesus to serve as arbitrator in an inheritance dispute between two brothers; we assume it’s the younger brother making the appeal as the older brother got the bulk of the estate in that culture. The younger brother was trying to get his share. It may not have a whole lot to do with the overall meaning of the parable, but note that Jesus pretty much blows off this request. “Who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you?” he asks and maybe that’s his way of saying, “You want that kind of advice? There are others more qualified than I am to help you.” Or maybe he’s saying “You know there are some matters which you are quite capable of sorting out for yourself. You’ve been given a brain…use it.” Just a thought; I could be way off on this, but I throw it out there as an aside for you to think about.

Anyway, this exchange leads to the caution, “Be on your guard against all manner of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” and with that I think we start to get closer to what this parable is all about. Rather than arbitrating the dispute between these brothers, Jesus perceives that the real problem for both of them has to do with greed; hence this caution to them, a caution that is then illustrated by the parable.

I would guess that we would all agree that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions…but we sure like to have them . We like the material things of this world and one reason for that is that advertisers hook all of us, people of all ages, starting with little kids, convincing us that we just have to have whatever it is. They’re good at it; and they convince us and we convince ourselves that it’s not greed at all but that we either need it, or we deserve it. So almost all of us accumulate way more than we need and part of it has to do with thinking that more stuff is going to make us happy and that, I think, brings us yet a little closer to what Jesus was getting at.

This is about greed, and a discussion about greed and about our habits as consumers and about our delusions that we’re not greedy is certainly a discussion worthy of our consideration. I could talk this morning about wants vs. needs; I could try to dispense practical advice about downsizing and about being better stewards of what we have, all of which are excellent topics and things we should think about. But talking about all those things, important as they are, still would only scratch the surface of this parable. Going a little deeper we see that what Jesus was taking aim at here was not so much greed itself, but the effect of greed, what greed does to people, of what it turns people into.

In his desire to accumulate goods, the farmer in the parable had put himself into a state of anxiety. Things were going well for him; his land was producing abundantly which I think is what every farmer hopes for. But rather than see this as a good thing this man sees it as a problem, a problem that can only be relieved by building bigger barns and making room for all he has and then some. That hits pretty close to home, or at least it should, because this is exactly what our consumer culture tries to ingrain in us. Regardless of how much we have, there’s always one more thing that will really make us happy, one more thing or one more upgrade that will enable us to eat, drink and be merry. It doesn’t matter that at some level we know it’s not true; we keep trying anyway.

So greed has made the farmer anxious, but perhaps even more than that, his greed has isolated him. I think one of the most striking things about this parable is that the farmer talks to no one but himself; he has no interaction of any kind with anyone but himself. He’s all alone. In three short verses the word “I” appears 6 times, the word “my” appears 5 times. He thinks to himself and he talks to himself. He has no point of reference except himself; no human, no god. His greed has completely isolated him.

If you think back a few weeks to the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lead in to that was the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and the answer was the classic Old Testament answer of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” In the parable of the rich fool, he can’t do either one of those things; he can’t love God or neighbor because God and neighbors are not even part of his world.

The man in the parable is a fool not so much for anything he did but more because of his failure to see what he’s become. Isolated as he is he can’t see that in a very real sense he has forfeited his humanity; he lives alone and sadly, he dies alone. All the goods he’s accumulated can’t help him.

The man in the parable was a fool for not seeing how skewed the focus of his life was. Life was all about him. When his land produced abundantly, he thought it was about him. He couldn’t see God as the source of his abundance; it had to be about him and his hard work. When he became anxious about his abundance and what to do with it, his solution was bigger barns because he couldn’t see beyond himself and understand himself to part of a larger community. He couldn’t see the neighborhood; he couldn’t see how his life would be enhanced if he would share his abundance.

This is one of those parables that convicts pretty much all of us though, but one of our defense mechanisms is playing the comparison game and finding someone we think is worse than we are, more like the rich fool than we are. You can always find somebody, but if we’re honest, we all have a problem. The antidote to the problem though is the same as it could have been for the rich fool. If we have faith to see God as the source of what we have, if we understand that it’s not all about us, that changes our focus as we look outward toward God. If we have eyes to see the neighborhood around us, that too changes our perspective as we look outward and outward looking we get closer to being who we’re supposed to be; we get closer to being rich toward God.

One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Like I said, we all know that’s true. We know the other clichés; “You can’t take it with you;” “You never see a U-Haul attached to a hearse,” things like that. We know the truth of those statements, but we also know how our inclination toward foolishness often blinds us to that truth. In his journey through life the rich fool ran out of time; we’ve still got some.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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