Evangelist and Bible teacher in the Eastern Cape. B.A. and H.E.D from University of South Africa and M.A. Abilene Christian University
The Parables of Jesus: When God Calls Some One a Fool.
The words fool, or foolish, occur more than 200 times in the Bible and most often in the book of Proverbs. Usually it warns against behaviour that needs to be avoided. Perhaps the warning that strikes one’s attention most aggressively in the Old Testament is, however, in Psalm 14:1 where the writer states; “... fools say in their hearts there is no God”. (NRSV translation)
It is however in the parable that Jesus teaches, as recorded in Luke 12:13-31, (usually referred to as the parable of the rich fool) that Jesus challenges our way of life in this modern world. When understanding a parable it is essential to look firstly at the situation that led up to the parable. In Luke 12 we find Jesus teaching this parable in answer to a request by a man who was unhappy that his brother would not share their inheritance with him.
According to the Jewish law in the time of Jesus, the oldest son inherited a double portion what the father left behind. The balance of the inheritance would be divided between the remaining brothers. It is interesting to note that Jesus refuses to get into the situation as a judge or arbitrator. This is an important lesson for those today who want to legislate Christian principles. That is not the way Jesus worked. He rather taught that a person must be challenged to do what is right according to their own understanding of God’s teaching.
So Jesus turns to how he often chose to reply to a question, namely he taught a parable. The story he told is a simple one with far reaching implications. A farmer achieved great results in producing more than he could possibly use. So faced with this very pleasant dilemma he decided to break down his present barns and build bigger ones. He could then “relax, eat, drink and be merry” (vs.19). In our world we judge people by how rich and successful they are on a worldly basis. The rich farmer ticked all the right boxes. He was an amazingly successful farmer producing more abundant crops than he could use. He planned for the future and put into action those plans. He faced the future with a peaceful mind then, believing that his future was secure and happiness had arrived. It is however what is missing in the parable that tells the hearers just as much as what was revealed. There was no mention of sharing and caring about anyone except himself. I will build, I will provide for myself, spoke of an attitude that projected selfishness and lack of love for others. But the twist in the story is that the rich farmer’s time had run out! He had failed to make provision for what is important in this life and in eternity.
In the same chapter in Luke, Jesus encourages his followers to sell their possessions and give alms, “providing yourselves with purses that never grow old” (Luke 12:13, 14). He completes his statement with the words “for where your treasure is there your heart will be also”.
When Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, as recorded in Luke 4 and Matthew 4, the temptation came in the form of power, possession and position. That is what the world offers us today and what the rich farmer and the younger brother who desired his part of the inheritance his father had left placed their hearts on. In a world that has gone crazy for power, possession and positions comes a voice from the past warning us today that we need to hear another voice about the future. Every day we are inundated with temptation on many levels. Firstly we are told that we are self sufficient and don’t need God. Then we are told to take care of number one in life. Then we are taught that those who are living by another standard are fools.
In 1 Corinthians 3:18 Paul warns those who reject the teachings of God; “do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise”. Worldly wisdom is good but only if it leads a person to realise that there is a greater power in the world that provides for a person in this world and in the world to come. The rich farmer neglected the opportunity that he had to make this world a better place and in so doing prepare for an eternity of promise beyond his wildest dreams. What a fool indeed!
The Baker Bible Dictionary
The NRSV of the Bible printed by Zondervan - used with permission.
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1987 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and are used by permission. All rights reserved.