The parable of the rich fool. 12:13-21


The request for Jesus to judge an inheritance matter leads him to warn two warring brothers of the danger of avarice. Jesus then supports this warning with a saying which makes the point that living is not possessing, which fact he illustrates in the parable of the Rich Fool.

The passage

v13. Rabbi's were expected to arbitrate on matters of law, but Jesus is unwilling to play this role. His task is to reveal truth, not settle a fight over an inheritance.

v14. Jesus certainly has the authority to judge the issue, but he has only one message for the people of his age and that is "repent and believe" - the only path to authentic real life.

v15. Jesus goes on to warn of sinful humanity's inclination toward avarice. If our life is focused on things, we can easily miss the hidden reality of life. Authentic existence is found in a relationship with God through Christ and not in the contentment that may be derived from wealth.

v16-20. The parable does not set out to expose the sin of avarice, but rather the futility of thinking that possessions lead to a sustaining satisfied life. As the Preacher puts in Ecclesiastes chapter 2, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired ..... yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done ..... everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind." "I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?"

v21. Real life, a meaningful and sustaining life, is not found in possessing, but in being "rich toward God" through faith in Christ. As the Preacher explains, "the beginning of all wisdom is the fear (respect) of the Lord." Real life is lost when a person "remains a pauper in the sight of God."

True riches

A very popular Australian TV show some years ago was called "Sea Change". The programme got a big lift with the performances of some top Australian talent, particularly Sigrid Thornton. It seemed initially to be little more than the life and times of a quaint little Australian community, but as the series developed its underlying philosophical bent emerged. The series toyed with the substance of life, not in a spiritual sense, but at the practical hedonistic level of discovering the path to true happiness, contentment and fulfillment.



Sigrid Thornton played a high-flying city lawyer. She gets out of the big smoke and takes up the position of magistrate in a tiny coastal village. She finds, in her close interaction with the village characters, a growing sense of meaning, a meaning she didn't find in the hustle-n-bustle, wealth and power of her big-city law career. Along with other blow ins, escapees from the impersonal city, she begins to find contentment in simple human interaction.

The programme reflected the present trend of escape from the hum-drum, meaningless, frustrating, dog-eat-dog existence of suburban living. The drop-out disease is affecting many, particularly professionals. The endless chase after wealth and the toys of consumerism, with its high cost in personal and family time and space, is increasingly being questioned by those with the power to opt out. Quality life, a life that brings happiness, is increasingly the aim of the affluent, for "most people's life falls far short of their dreams."

The desire of our farmer friend to build bigger barns is but a first century illustration of the same problem. With all his "good things laid up for many years" he looked with anticipation to the day when he may "take life easy, eat, drink and enjoy" himself. Yet, the pursuit of his dreamed quality-life was cut short in death. Even if his amassed wealth had gained for him the good life, all was lost in death. A person may well amass wealth for themselves, either enabling free access to the glories of the consumer society, or the more realistic simplicity of family and small community living, but if they "remain a pauper in the sight of God", they will inevitably discover that their wealth does not give them real life.

The sad reality is that Sea Change inevitably failed to discover authentic life. It certainly reminded us of the value of simplicity, affirming the good of God's creation, but left us with the false idea that the grass is greener on the other side of the hill. Contentment is a pleasant state of existence, but it doesn't touch the true substance of life. Sea Change my have had its resident New Age alternate and its Hindu mystic, but the local Christian church had been air-brushed out. In the end, real life, eternal life, is lost when a person "remains a pauper in the sight of God."


1. Is it actually wrong to build bigger barns?

2. If wealth does not give us life, what does?

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