The parable of the rich fool

When Jesus told a parable, the story concerned familiar situations of his time. Sometimes we must translate it from his culture to ours. Other times we can find its familiarity downright embarrassing. Such is the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21).

A farmer has produced such an abundance of crops that his success has outgrown his barns. He decides to tear them down and have bigger ones built in their place. With careful planning and sharp business practices, he should never have to work again, and he intends to relax and enjoy what he has provided for himself.

Jesus’ parable did not end well for the farmer. Before he could even order his new barns, he died, and God called him a fool. In Scripture, “fool” always means someone who is somehow morally deficient, not stupid. He thought he was prosperous because he had lots of stuff. If that’s all someone has, then what good will it do him when he dies?

Jesus came into the world so that people would have life and live it abundantly. That’s abundance of life, not abundance of stuff. Two thousand years after Jesus told the parable, too many people still don’t know the difference. We have a silly saying nowadays: He who dies with the  most toys wins. In fact, he who dies with the most toys is just dead. The modern person frantically trying to accumulate enough toys to die a “winner” is no different from the rich fool.

The thought of giving any of his wealth to help other less fortunate people never occurs to fools. They have only the desire to grasp and keep everything for themselves: greed. Everything they have they consider their own, that they can consume as much as they want any time they want: gluttony. A desire to possess absolutely drove the rich fool and others like him: lust.


Greed, gluttony, and lust killed the rich fool. Such utter self-centeredness leaves no room for God.

And so he died with an abundance of stuff, but not an abundance of life.

He died with only the blessings he could get for himself and not with the blessings he could have gotten from God if he had wanted them.

He could have taken those blessings with him, but instead, he died a pauper with bulging barns that someone else inherited.

When he finished the parable, Jesus went on to diagnose the rich fool’s root problem: anxiety. No one can have  anxiety and faith at the same time. Faith says that God will take care of me. Anxiety says I have to provide for myself or no one else will. Faith recognizes that whoever has more than enough to meet needs is best off giving the rest away. Anxiety worries about all manner of what ifs and continues to hoard the surplus.

God knows we need food, clothing, and shelter. He also knows all about the new needs born of modern technological societies. Jesus reminded the crowd that the Father wanted to give them the kingdom. The Father wants to give it to us just as much.

According to the parable of the rich fool, the recipe for abundant life is to stop worrying about the stuff. Seek the kingdom of God. God will not only give the kingdom, but throw in whatever stuff we really need along with it (v.31).

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Liz West

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