This Sunday is the 9th Sunday of St. Luke. The Bible reading is a short parable about a certain rich man that Christ called the “fool”.
Before exploring this parable, we should first understand the context in which it has been said. It comes in the context of Christ’s warning to His disciples against excessive anxiety and greed. The verses prior to the parable begin with Christ’s words: “take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses”. (Luke 12:15). In other words; the life of a man is not lengthened by an abundance of possessions. Jesus followed this with His parable, in confirmation of this truth.
From the initial reading of this parable, the rich man does not come across as a fool, as God calls him. He is intelligent and possesses much luck in his life due to his apparent wealth, which he seems to be managing well. So why did God call him a “fool”?
Firstly; the rich man’s way of thinking. The Gospel reads: “he thought within himself”. He failed to seek God’s will and counsel about how to use these good things in his life. God did His part and showed His mercy; for all the ground of the rich man brought forth plentifully, the mercy of God extends its goodness even to the bad; sending down His rain upon the just and the unjust.
We also notice something else that is foolish: the rich man uses the “mine mentality”, as in “my crops” and “my goods”. He does not consider from whom he has received these gifts, he is ignorant to the offerings of God. If he had, he would have treated these things as would a steward of God. But he is fooled into thinking that these things were the fruits of his own labours, which is why he usurped them for himself, calling them “my crops” and “my goods”. “I am the sole owner,” he thinks, “and there is no one else entitled to a share. These things are not God’s, but mine, and therefore I alone will enjoy them. I will not take God in as a partner to enjoy my profit.”
Psalms 24:1 says: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (1 Cor 10:26). We have been entrusted with the good things that God has given us out of His love and Divine providence.
The “fool” in the scriptures is the one who denies the existence of God, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God” (Ps. 14:1) and the opposite of foolishness is wisdom and, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10).
Let us also look at how the rich man resolved the following question: “What shall I do?” He responds with; “I will pull down my barns and build greater.” And if your land yields even more bountifully in the future, will you pull these down and build again? But what need is there to pull down and build? We see here ignorance to the lot of humanity, to the people around him; a self-centred mentality. Saint Theophylact says: “You have available to you as storehouses the stomachs of the poor which can hold much and are indestructible and imperishable. They are in fact heavenly and divine storehouses, for he who feeds the pauper, feeds God”.
The rich man asked himself: “What shall I do?” but he responded in a foolish way to this essential and ontological question. Then Christ Himself – in reply to the same question asked by the young rich man says: “Love God with all of one’s heart, all one’s strength, and all one’s mind; and love for one’s neighbour.” Thus, indicating the common cause for all, which gives meaning to life.
If the rich man had any love and fear of God, he would have answered the question much differently. What shall I do? Share your extra goods with the thousands of hungry people. The rich man chose to build walls with his wealth, walls that hinder him from meeting and caring for others, instead of building bridges uniting him with God and his neighbours. Saint Basil the Great says: “Are not you then a robber, for counting as your own what you have received to distribute? It is the bread of the famished which you receive, the garment of the naked which you hoard in your chest, the shoe of the barefooted which rots in your possession, the money of the penniless which you have buried in the earth.”
Lastly, the rich man is considered a fool by God because he does not realise that the length of a man’s life rests with God alone and that no man can set the limits of his own life.
By saying to his soul: “soul, eat, drink and be merry” he determines that he will have a long life, as if length of years was something else he could obtain by working his land. But a long life is not a crop you can grow, and it is not another of your belongings. To eat and drink are the good things only of an irrational soul. But the good things of a rational soul are to understand, to reason, and to be glad in the law of God and in good thoughts.
Throughout this life, we are on a pilgrimage, and we are striving for the heavenly habitation. Many times, all of us without any exception, should say: “One day we will die, and we will not take anything with us!” This is the truth! But it is evident through the way we currently live and behave that we don’t realise this, and on contrary, we believe that we are invincible, living on this earth forever. Many times, we are true copies of the rich “foolish” man in this parable.
Let us strive, therefore, to be rich towards God, that is, to trust in God, to have Him as our wealth and the treasury of wealth, and not to speak of “my goods” but of “the good things of God.” If they are God’s, then let us not deprive God of His own goods. This is what it means to be rich towards God: to trust that even if I empty myself and give everything away, I will not lack the necessities. God is my treasury of good things, and I open and take from that treasury what I need. Amen.