Friday, February 7, 2014

You Can't Take It With You, Nor Should You--the Parable of the Rich Fool

     It is always interesting to see the context in which Jesus is telling His parables. 
     In Luke 11, Jesus is invited to a house of a Pharisee to eat with him.  The Lord did not wash before the meal, and the Pharisee comments on this.  Jesus then recites quite a list of woes against the Pharisees.  The house no doubt falls silent as Jesus lets fly His grievances against such men who should know better.  They are in daily contact with God's word, and yet they are miserly in their hearts. He admonishes them to give to the poor, practice justice and the love of God and stop wanting to be the center of attention at the synagogue.  He then excoriates the teachers of the law, because they load burdens upon the people that are too heavy.  They kill God's prophets.  These "experts in the law" are castigated for wallowing in ignorance and preventing others from obtaining knowledge.   Needless to say, as He is leaving, these men throw angry questions at Him.  They seek to comfort their bruised egos, as well as discredit Him in front of the ever-growing crowd that is gathering outside. 
   The crowd is so huge that Luke says the people are "trampling on one another."  The Pharisees are there as well, no doubt quite flummoxed by the crowds.  Luke is contrasting how, when Jesus teaches, the crowd jostles one another, perhaps roughly, to hear Him.  No one gathered in huge numbers to hear the Pharisees.  The people may gather out of respect, but never in such numbers.  The crowd hungrily gathers to hear Him, to see Him and maybe even to touch Him.  The crowds are a testimony to Jesus' earlier indictments of the Pharisees:  these spiritual leaders have left the crowd desperate to hear of God's love, not of another failure.      
   Before Jesus tells this parable, He is confronted by a man with an interesting request:
"Someone in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.'”   Uh-oh.  Jesus is appalled at this man's focus.  Jesus' reputation is not of a judge, but of a prophet and a healer.  This man is squandering an opportunity to learn the deeper things of life from this Rabbi of Nazareth.  He even calls Him "Teacher" but he does not want not to learn, but to dispute.
   You can hear Jesus' exasperation with the man: "Jesus replied, 'Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?'”   The time is short and the men who should be teaching you of My heavenly Father have traded in their sacred position to become theological bean-counters.  Not only is your focus wrong, sir, but Pharisees...are you listening to this?  See what happens when you don't love as my Father loves, and live in the beauty of holiness?  You get disputes, conflict and a heart hostile to the things of God.
     Jesus turns to the crowd, and says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
     The man standing there is probably aghast at this.  He figures Jesus is willing to step in and do what teachers do--settle disputes, right?  No.  This was no ordinary teacher. 
     Jesus then drives the point home with a parable, not just to him, but to the whole crowd:  “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).
     Earlier the Pharisees were put on notice that they needed to be generous to the poor, not burden the community with useless rules and not bustle about with outward shows of righteousness that does not please God.  Their hearts are cruelly calculating and ultimately, they are part of a long tradition that silences those who speak of God's demands and the need for repentance.  In other words, they are not serving God and will not hear otherwise.
    Look at the parable.  This rich man had been blessed with an abundance--all he needed had been provided.  Instead of falling on his knees to thank God and looking to bless the community with this surplus, he wants to build barns to effectively hoard the grain.  He will use his wealth not to provide for others who have nothing, but to store it away so he can live the high life.  No more work, just party and let the world pass us by!  I am at the center of my self-sufficient world and I don't need to care.  Let others take care of it! 
     Then God drops a bomb onto this rich man:  your life is over.  Who will get your inheritance?  Will you take it with you?
     The young man who had wanted Jesus to arbitrate his dispute over his inheritance and the Pharisees are both this rich man:  When you stand before God when this life is over (and that may come sooner than you think) what will you have to show for it?  Money?  Rules?  Possessions?  Prestige? 
      Jesus reminds them that being "rich toward God" is the greatest "wealth" that someone can have.  It motivates you to love others, to serve others, and to live in such a way that when you are called up to heaven, you will open up your empty hands and say, "My life is Yours, precious Lord.  You are all I have ever desired and needed." 
     The Father's heart will swell with joy and He will say, as His arms enfold you, "Well done, good and faithful servant."


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