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Gospel according to Luke 12: 13-21 (NIV)
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 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.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “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. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “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?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.”
It is as if the man in the crowd demanded of Jesus, “Intervene in this dispute but do so on my side!” His attitude was not that of a person searching for the kingdom of God! In one respect his approach to Jesus resembles that of Martha (Luke 10: 40): “You have authority, Jesus; use it to benefit me!”
Jesus first addressed that man. As I reflect on Jesus’ question to him, I recall Jesus’ statement in the Gospel according to John (12: 47), “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” A few verses earlier, Luke had presented Jesus’ teaching of his relationship with the Father, including this: “whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God” (verse 8). Jesus will return as judge of all but at that moment in his discourse he was intent on teaching his disciples and the crowd about their need to trust in him for salvation, not on judging them.
Jesus then addressed the crowd. How necessary it is for people in the affluent West to hear the message, “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (12: 15b)!
The prevailing “religion” today appears to believe that satisfaction and fulfilment are to be found through indulging one’s self in purchasing or otherwise acquiring a particular good or service. Advertising presents such self-gratification not only as morally justifiable but also as each consumer’s entitlement.
A challenge for all who set out to follow Jesus is to resist the false messages of the world which seem to promise so much but which inevitably prove to be disappointing. Short-term sensations of pleasure can never replace the long-term peace of mind that comes from loving God and knowing God’s love in return.
Jesus’ parable of the rich fool is as relevant today – perhaps it is even more relevant. The rest of the world might regard the lives of wealthy people with covetous eyes; today’s disciples of Jesus know how shallow are the benefits of great wealth unless it is shared with others. Jesus implicitly teaches us to be rich towards God and to allow that attitude to overflow towards others who are needful of our spiritual and practical assistance.