Through the parable of a “Rich Fool,” Jesus teaches us the folly of relying only on the resources of this world without caring for life after death and without helping those around us who need our help. He reminds us that our lifespan is not in our control. Jesus asks us to learn from how God takes care of the worthless ravens and adorns short-living flowers. God’s chosen ones are far more valuable than these. He will supply us with what we need if we work on behalf of him. We can convert our earthly resources to unperishable treasures in heaven. If we do so, we will be free from the unnecessary anxieties.
Parable of the Rich Fool
(Luke 12:16) And Jesus told them this parable, “There was a rich man and his land had produced a good harvest. (17) He thought: ‘What shall I do? For I am short of room to store my harvest.’ (18) So this is what he planned: ‘I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones to store this grain and all my other goods. (19) Then I can say to myself: Lucky you! You have a lot of good things laid by for many years. Rest, eat, drink and enjoy yourself.’ (20) But God said to him: ‘You fool! This very night your life will be taken away from you; tell me who will get all you have stored up?’ (21) This is the lot of those who pile up riches instead of becoming rich before God.”
Dependence on God
(22) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you not to worry about your life, what you are to eat, nor about your body, what you are to wear. (23) For your life is more than food and the body more than clothing. (24) Look at the birds: they neither sow nor reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! (25) Which of you for all his worrying can add a day to his life? (26) And if you are not able to control such a small thing, why do you worry about the rest? (27) Look at the wild flowers, how they grow: they do not spin or weave; yet I tell you, even Solomon with all his wealth was not clothed as one of these. (28) But if God so clothes the grass in the fields, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you! What little faith you have! (29) As for you, do not set your heart on what you are to eat and drink; stop worrying. (30) Let all the nations of the world run after these things; your Father knows that you need them. (31) Seek rather the Kingdom of God and these things will be given to you as well. (32) Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. (33) Sell what you have and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, and make safe investments with God, where no thief comes and no moth destroys. (34) For where your investments are, there will your heart be also.
Background of the passage
The background of this gospel passage given in verses 13-15 will help us understand the message of the parable. Someone from the crowd came seeking Jesus’ mediation with his brother for a fair distribution of their inheritance. Both brothers were breaking up their brotherly affection in dividing their birthright. Wealth from their ancestors was not bringing them happiness, but conflict and enmity.
Jesus’ concern was not the wealth of this world. However, he made use of that request as an opportunity to teach about greed of the rich and anxiety of the poor. Often, the rich person stands for the oppressor and the poor for the oppressed because out of greed for wealth a person might exploit others and his selfishness would make others suffer. The greed or anxiety for wealth can hinder the righteousness and the goal of gaining heavenly inheritance. Before presenting the parable of the “Rich Fool,” Jesus concluded: “Be on your guard and avoid every kind of greed, for the quality of your life does not depend on the possessions you have, however great they may be.” (Luke 12:15).
Parable of the Rich Fool
(Luke 12:16) And Jesus told them this parable, “There was a rich man and his land had produced a good harvest.”
Here is a rich person who got an abundant harvest. The story does not specify the reason for the bountiful produce. The weather and soil must be good. The rich man and his workers might have considerable experience in farming. However, he forgot that the pleasant weather, the good soil, the health, and availability of laborers were God’s blessings for him. God did this favor not just for himself, but for all the people who labored for it and the people living around him. The rich man became over possessive of his wealth that he ignored God and his neighbors. He wanted to keep everything for his own enjoyment.
This man is rich in worldly wealth and poor in spiritual life, and hence a rich fool. He was a fool because he disregarded God’s providence and God’s directive to support the poor. Besides, he ignored the uncertainties of this life, his spiritual growth, and savings for his eternal life.
(17) He thought: ‘What shall I do? For I am short of room to store my harvest.’ (18) So this is what he planned: ‘I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones to store this grain and all my other goods.’
This selfish man thought of “I” and “my” only. He was in a world of his own and did not care about his employees, family, or neighbors who might be starving. His only concern was that his store was not enough to hold the surprising harvest.
When we gain an additional income, unforeseen profit, or win a lottery, how do we use the additional income? Our concern might be to build a bigger house, buy an expensive car, lead a luxurious life, or invest in an income generating project. There are people who when they became rich, continue their simple life, and increase their support to those in need. That is what Jesus is expecting from us Christians.
(19) ’Then I can say to myself: Lucky you! You have a lot of good things laid by for many years. Rest, eat, drink and enjoy yourself.’
This self-centered person was trying to make a “heaven” in this world with the riches he got by God’s providence. He allotted his time for relaxation, eating, drinking, and merry making. He had no interest in prayer and for sharing resources with other humans.
(20) But God said to him: ‘You fool! This very night your life will be taken away from you; tell me who will get all you have stored up?’
God becomes a character in this parable questioning the rich man whom He blessed with the abundant crop. Death will take away the savings of a man. Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 express the folly of such material savings: “I hated all I had labored for under the sun and which I must leave to my successor. Who knows whether he will be foolish or wise? Yet he will be master of all I have achieved under the sun by my own efforts and wisdom. This, too, is meaningless.” God did not give the rich fool much time to prepare for afterlife because the rich man already decided on ignoring God and God’s people. He had to leave the world that night itself.
(21) This is the lot of those who pile up riches instead of becoming rich before God.
The rich man had two options:
1) He could store the treasure for himself with no concern for others. However, he might end up in dissatisfaction because he cannot enjoy it forever. God has limited the human lifespan.
2) He can make use of his riches to uplift others so he can be rich before God and enjoy that in heaven. His sharing will give him joy in this world and eternal joy in the paradise.
The willingness to share resources with others is a God’s gift. Jesus wants the Christians to follow this choice.
Dependence on God
(22) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you not to worry about your life, what you are to eat, nor about your body, what you are to wear.”
After talking to the public, Jesus turned towards his disciples, who were to focus on the establishment of God’s Kingdom. They had left their homes, possessions, and income to follow Jesus. They should not worry about their necessities, including food and clothing. When Jesus sent out the 12 to preach, he instructed them, “Do not take anything for the journey, neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even take a spare tunic.” (Luke 9:3). The apostles had successful stories to share when they returned.
(23) For your life is more than food and the body more than clothing.
God’s care for the life of humans, especially when they are loyal to God, is clear from many instances in the Bible. He prepared the universe including the resources for food and clothing in it for eternity before he created Adam and Eve. God continues preserving the universe with great care for the comfort of humans as parents do for their children. Even before the original sin, Adam had the responsibility to “cultivate and care” the garden (Genesis 2:15). As children, we need to obey God by doing our part, and then God will take care of the rest.
During the Great Flood, God protected Noah, the faithful believer, and his family of eight people while He drowned all the unfaithful. God let Noah preserve the animals and everything they needed in the ark for 378 days.
During the great famine for seven years, God protected Jacob along with his 12 sons and their families through the providential exile of Joseph to Egypt and his elevation as the governor. Pharaoh allotted the fertile land of Goshen in Egypt for Jacob and his sons, where they lived for centuries.
During the 40 years of Israel’s wandering in the desert, God supplied water, manna, and quail for their nourishment. “He gave you manna to eat which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you realize that one lives not on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Your garments did not even fray or your feet blister all these forty years.” (Deut. 8:3-4).
Jesus fed 5,000 and 4,000 men, along with their wives and children, when they finished listening to the Word of God. These are also examples of how God took care of our physical needs without our asking for them.
The message of the salvation history of Israel and that of Jesus is that the children of God should focus on listening, sharing, and obeying the Word of God, and then God will provide them with everything needed as a father takes care of his children. When we take care of the necessities of those who need help, we become God’s agents for them.
(24) Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds!
Jesus here refers to Psalm 147:9. “He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they cry.” Ravens are disgraceful beings that humans disregard because they are unclean for Jews. The old ravens abandon the young ravens and they expel them out of their nests at an early stage. Then they live upon dew. The Jews believed that flies and worms arise out of their dung and enter the mouths of the young ravens. Thus, God feeds the deserted young ravens and makes them survive. In the book of Job, God asks: “Who provides prey for the raven when its young cry out to God and roam about desperate for food?” (Job 38:41). The ancient fathers interpreted ravens as Gentiles and their young ones as early Christians whom God nourished when they were helpless and cried out to God for help.
Jesus contrasted invaluable ravens with valuable humans. Compared to ravens, humans can sow, reap, and keep the produce in storehouses. God cannot abandon those who cry out to Him, those who obey his commandments, and those who work on his behalf.
(25) Which of you for all his worrying can add a day to his life?
The original text can mean adding height of a person or prolong the length of life. From the context of the passage and based on the natural growth of humans, adding the lifespan is more relevant. People’s worry is not their height but the shortness of their life. Anxiety cannot extend our life because it is God who determines the time of our death.
(26) And if you are not able to control such a small thing, why do you worry about the rest?
Anxiety over life is not productive. What we need is loyalty to God and engagement in His mission. God will take care of the rest for us, as God has been doing it for humanity since the beginning of creation. The control of the universe and our lives are not in complete control of scientists, technologists, or physicians, but only in God.
(27) Look at the wildflowers, how they grow: they do not spin or weave; yet I tell you, even Solomon with all his wealth was not clothed as one of these.
While the example of the ravens was to contrast with the anxiety over food, Jesus uses the example of the flowers in the field to contrast it with the clothing of the most glorious King Solomon. The richest and wisest king of the world used well-knit purple dress. However, only God alone grows the natural flowers in the field. They are more splendid than the gold-embroidered robes that humans knit for King Solomon. These flowers last only few days while King Solomon reigned for 40 years. God adorns the short-lived flowers far better than the artificial robes of the long-reigned king.
(28) But if God so clothes the grass in the fields, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you! What little faith you have!
Again, Jesus compares the disciples of Jesus, who are valuable, to the flowering plants that perish within a few days. If God adorns the short-lived plants that people dry and burn in the oven, then how much would He cloth the people whom he created in his own image and likeness? People cut grass and flowers that grew with them as fuel for cooking because of the scarcity of wood in Palestine. The oven was the portable clay pot used to bake bread. If in his amazing design, God beautifies even the small plants that perish within a few days, then how much more would God clothe the disciples of Jesus? In Genesis, we see how God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins to cover their nakedness, replacing the fragile cloth they made from fig leaves (Genesis 3:7, 21).
What little faith you have!
The disciples were believers but were lacking firm faith. Jesus used the same phrase “O you of little faith” on other occasions also: Before calming the storm in the lake (Matthew 8:26), when Peter sank in the lake while walking on the water (Matthew 14:31), and when the disciples had no bread with them (Matthew 16:8). They became full believers only after they received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
(29) As for you, do not set your heart on what you are to eat and drink; stop worrying.
Jesus then returned to the context of the parable of the “Rich Fool.” The foremost concern of the disciples shall not be food and drink, though they are necessities of life. They must trust in God’s providence and focus on their mission. During the public ministry, Jesus and his disciples occupied in full-time ministry. Others fed and sheltered them. “Shortly afterwards, Jesus made his way through towns and villages, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. The Twelve accompanied him, as also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and diseases: Mary called Magdalene, who had been freed of seven demons; Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward; Suzanna and many others who provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their own funds.” (Luke 8:1-3).
(30) Let all the nations of the world run after these things; your Father knows that you need them. (31) Seek rather the Kingdom of God and these things will be given to you as well.
“All the nations of the world” stood for the Gentiles who did not know God and his providence. Since they did not follow the true God, they had worries and anxieties on their material needs. The disciples of Jesus must seek the Kingdom of God. Then God will give them everything they need. God had done this in the history of Israel and during Jesus’ public ministry. Christian missionaries throughout the centuries also trusted in these words of Jesus, and they continue their mission trusting in God’s providence.
(32) Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.
The “little flock” means the disciples of Jesus. Jesus assured them the Kingdom of God because of their faithfulness to God. So, they need not be anxious of the material needs. What they must look for was the fullness of God’s kingdom in the life after death.
(33) Sell what you have and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, and make safe investments with God, where no thief comes and no moth destroys.
Jesus reminded that the earthly treasures would perish, or thieves might steal. However, converting the earthly treasures to heavenly assets through charity would be a permanent and unperishable investment.
Jesus told the rich young man who came asking him “Master, what good work must I do to receive eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16), Jesus answered: “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all that you possess and give the money to the poor, and you will become the owner of a treasure in heaven. Then come back and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21). So, Jesus guaranteed eternal life to the one who gives up the material possessions for helping others and following him. The early Christian community followed this as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They would sell their property and all they had and distribute the proceeds to others according to their need.” (Acts 2:44-45). However, the church later applied this in the strict sense only to the consecrated priests and religious.
(34) For where your investments are, there will your heart be also.
When our treasure is in the safe keep of God, our focus will be on heaven. Whereas, if we care only for earthly treasure, our concentration will be materialistic. If the treasure is here, the owner would become selfish and might exploit others to increase the treasure. He will be anxious of losing it by perishing or stealing. Since he trusts in the material wealth, he might forget God and people in need of his support. If the treasure is in heaven, the owner will try to increase that by doing more charity works.