The parable of the rich fool



LUKE 12v13-21 [22-34 for context]


THEME: Christ. our Redeemer, [a reconciler not a divider] wants us to use our God-given resources for his kingdom and not store them for the sake of selfish greed.




ILLUS.: Consider this scenerio – a wealthy man with a number of children has recently died – he has left a substantial estate – his wife had died before him and so the inheritance is to be divided amongst the children.  There is a dispute as to who should receive what. Imagine you are one of those children and you know – or as least think you know – that you have a right to a certain amount. Your brothers and sisters dispute your claim – you are a Christian and they are not!!

If you go to court you will probably win BUT your relationship with your brothers and sisters will be irreconcilable.


What would you do??

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you know you are right – or where you are the injured party and yet standing up for your rights would cause personal harm to others?


The cry for justice is a cry heard in every part of the world. It starts with the toddler who cries out when deprived of a toy by another toddler – it continues through human life and history – there are cries from individuals and cries from communities and nations.


In a world where everyone is demanding their rights – how are we as Christians supposed to live?


How are we to deal with all these demands? Criminals want their rights! Victim’s of crime want theirs! The rights of the worker! the rights of the customer! The rights of the patients and the rights of the medical staff. The rights of the students and the rights of the teachers! Sometimes it appears that these rights contradict each other and then whose rights are right?!!




READ v13


What prompts this outburst from a man in the crowd? And why does he come to Jesus?


The background to such a request would have been well known. The father has died and has left the inheritance as a unit to his sons.

The one brother has already decided what he wants and he tries to use Jesus to pressurize his brother into dividing the inheritance.

Notice that he doesn’t say ” Teacher, my brother and I are quarreling over our inheritance will you mediate?” NO he has already decided and he is almost ordering Jesus to ratify his conclusions!!


The reason the man comes to Jesus is that the Rabbis generally stated that if one heir wanted a division of the inheritance then it should be granted.

In the mind of this man he is saying ” Everyone knows that my brother should divide this inheritamce with me. You Rabbi Jesus. tell him so!!”


The inheritance in those days was usually land!


ILLUS.: The cry for justice over the division of land in the M E is still a sensitive problem today!!


The cry of this man is “Give me my rights!”


BUT we are left with the feeling that he is unwilling to consider his problem from any perspective other than his own. HE has decided what his rights are and he wants Jesus to pressurize his brother into granting those rights.


Isn’t this typical of human nature? It is always me first! It is easy to demand our rights – and we tend to over-estimate what is due to us as compared to what is due to our neighbour. So what we really need is someone to judge our rights and our interpretation of justice!!


Jesus’ response to this man’s request is a sharp rebuke. — READ v14 —The term “O man” use in this way carries with it a note of disapproval. The two words “Judge and Arbiter / divider”  indicate the sense of Jesus’ disapproval.

It is obvious that there is a broken relationship between this man and his brother and what this man wants is for Jesus to act as the one who brings this broken relationship to a finalized and total separation. It is to this that Jesus objects.


He is a judge and a divider in the sense that he will finally judge all people and divide the sheep from the goats – [those who are his from those who reject him] – but he has not come to take sides and divide brother against brother or to intrench selfish, stubborn antagonism.


RATHER Jesus has come to be a “RECONCILER” – he wants to bring people together not finalized divisions between them.


Does Jesus’ response to this man mean that he is indifferent to the legal rights of the man. NO!! BUT the next verse makes it clear that Jesus is making the point that there are greater gains than receiving an inheritance and greater losses than losing an inheritance.


READ v15


Alt. Translation “Take heed and beware of every kind of insatiable desire. For life for a person does not consist in the surpluses of his possessions.”

Jerusalem Bible ” … a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns even when he has more than he needs.”


Was this written 2000 years ago or today??!

Our society is obsessesed with material security. Life Assurance, Pension Plans, more and more possessions. Our society is very affluent. Even the poor in our society are rich incomparison to the majority in the World.


ILLUS.: I remember going into a squatter camp in RSA and seeing people living in cardboard boxes – in the dirt – no sewerage, no NHS, no DSS, no water ONE well for 40 000 people, no privacy, no meals-on-wheels …. NO hope!!


Yet in our western society we are never satisfied with what we have!  We are under the impression that if we have an abundance of material possessions then we will have abundant life!!


It is true that a certain minimum of material things is necessary for life BUT it is not true that if we have a greater number of material possesions then we will enjoy a better and fuller life.


Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to have possessions but rather that LIFE does not consist of having MORE than enough / in excess of needs.


This applies not just to individuals but to communities and nations: The gap between rich and poor within our own country and around the world is ever-widening. BUT the pressure on dwindling natural resources is intensifying and people scamble to possess more and more.


ILLUS.: When big companies can make profit at a rate of £40 per second – and the top management who are already on 6 figure incomes award themselves 50 % / 75% increases while the workers get 1-3% or are made redundant then something is sadly wrong with our society.


When the developed world can dump food in the sea and pay farmer’s not to grow food while millions starve to death – we live in a sick society!!




In order to illustrate and emphasize his point Jesus now tells a parable:

The parable is simple . A man has too much so he stores it away thinking that he will then be secure The problem is that he dies before he can use it and it all goes to someone else.


a. What he has has been given to him!


This man is rich – we are not told how he became rich and nor does Jesus criticise him for being rich. On top of his riches he has a bumper harvest which increase his wealth considerable.

BUT notice the text ” …. the ground of a certain rich man produced a crop …”

There is no extra effort on his part. He is given this bumper crop in the providence of God – he hasn’t worked extra hard for this suplus.


There are millions of people who work very hard and are never rich – BUT this man has not work extra hard he has simply acquired these possessions.

The problem is what to do with this extra crop!!

b. He wants to store, for himself,  what he doesn’t need.


The man has a dilemma – And he has a discussion with himself about what to do with this extra wealth!


There is no thought about whether or not he really needs it that in fact he has enough already. There is no thought about the fact that this has been given to him by God. RATHER the reference throughout the monolgue with himself  is to “my crops”, “My barns”, “My grain and my goods”, MYSELF”


The question that preoccupies him is “How can I preserve these things for myself


As Ambrose, the early Church father, put it, “This man has ample storage in the mouths of the hungry” But such a thought never enters his head.


This text has so much to say to our modern Capitalist society with its excess profits and surpluses.


The Bible gives us two basic reasons why we should work;

1) so that we won’t be a burden to others [1 Thess. 2v7-12]

2) so that we can help those in need [Eph.4v28]


So having considered his dilemma the man decides that he will tear down his barns and build bigger ones in which to store the surpluses.


This man has received in abundance from God yet he doesn’t recognise that it is from God. He also has no one to share his gifts with.


The Father in the prodigal son has a party and rejoices with his friends and neighbours. The shepherd and the woman call their friends and neighbours when to rejoice with them when they find their sheep and coin. BUT this man has no-one with whom to share his good fortune.


“I will say to my soul “Soul you …. ” [v19]


He thinks that his needs can be met by himself and his material possessions.



ILLUS.: How many people do you know like that – people who live for themselves acquiring more and more possessions in the false hope that in them they will find happiness and security.  And very often those people withdraw from friends and family because they are afraid of what they will lose.


Usually it is much easier to see the faults in others than it is to see them in ourselves. Maybe you do not have much by way of material possessions – maybe life is a struggle BUT has that made you bitter – are you angry at God for not giving you more. Are you jealous of others you have more than you do?

“You shall not covet….”


You see the problem with this man in the parable was not that he was rich but that he was rich but that he was selfish and self-seeking.

All he was concerned about was securing his future  by hoarding far more than he could ever use.


c. Death on the day of retirement!


ILLUS.: It is sad, but true , that sometimes people who have worked all thier lives to build up their resouces – and looked forward to living their retirement years in ease and comfort often die shortly after retirement and never enjoy what they have striven for.  It is esp. sad if this is what they have live for!!


There is no point waiting to live your life tomorrow – tomorrow may never come!


This man thought that he could now ‘..Take life easy; eat drink and be merry”

“But God said to him, ‘You fool. This night your life will be demanded of you'”


FOOL – in scripture has a number of meanings but here it means sheer stupidity!

The word “demanded” [required of] is a term used for the repayment of a loan.

What this man had failed to grasp was that not only were his material possessions on loan from God  [his crops God-given]  BUT so also was his very life.


God’s accusation is not only that he has ignored God BUT on top of that he hasn’t lived for others.

“…. Who is going to get what you have prepared for yourself!”

 It would appear that the man does know who his heirs will be. He had lived selfishly for himself – he was lonely and friendless in the midst of his wealth. BUT he doen’t know who will gain control over his carefully secured wealth.

Most impotantly as far as he is concerned he has left it ALL behind!


ILLUS.: It was after one of the Rockafellers or Wrathchilds died in USA a reporter asked the solicitor “How much did he leave?” to which the reporter ryely replied, “He left everything!”




God has denounced the stupidity of this man! What was his response? We are not told.


BUT Jesus concludes:

This is how it will be with everyone who stores up

things for himself but is not rich towards God.


When people pursue material things as end in themselves that is the height of foolishness. Material goods are given not merely to maintain our lives in this world but they are given so that we might use them to become rich towards God. It is investing them in God’s interests.


These things are gifts from God in the first place – in fact they are on loan – everything we have, including life itself, comes from God and belongs rightfully to God.


The only way to have your riches in heaven is to send them on in advance – “Store up for YOURSELVES treasure in heaven” [Matt 6v27].

These riches are a gift from God BUT in a myterious way they are also a gift FOR God.


This parable about the rich fool is followed by Jesus’ warning to his disciples not to worry about food, drink and clothing and he urges them to be concerned with the Kingdom of God because it is the KINGDOM and only the kingdom that is the ultimate and lasting reality. Living for the kingdom is the exact opposite of living selfishly and for the here and now only.


This parable does not imply that material possessions are wrong in themselves but they are wrong when they become the focus and goal of life. The parable is criticising all kinds of greed which is idolatry.


When our goal is this world and its material things we will ultimately lose everything. BUT if our goal is the kingdom of God and that is what we are living for and praying for and working for then HE will give us what we need in order to fulfill that kingdom goal.

In fact he has already given it to us:

v32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father

HAS BEEN pleased to give you the kingdom”


This parable teaches us that the desire for material things is insatiable. It also teaches that the dreams of an abundant fulfilled and happy life will never be achieved through the accumulation of more than we need.


It also teaches us that Jesus is more concerned about our relationships with people that he is about our what we consider to be our personal rights.


Finally that our life and everything we have is on loan from God and the best we can do is seek first his Kingdom and so be rich towards God.


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