Luke 12: 13-21
13 ¶ And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
14 And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
In the clamour of people crowding to be near to Jesus, one man comes to Jesus with a problem which is entirely his own and has nothing to do with his or anyone’s spiritual life. He asks Jesus to use his influence to solve a family dispute about material possessions, the family inheritance, by telling his brother to divide the inheritance fairly.
The man’s problem is real enough to him – an injustice has been committed – but Jesus firmly rejects the role of arbiter. This is not why Jesus is here. It is not part of our Lord’s redemptive mission to intervene in such matters. Jesus gives to us key spiritual, moral and social precepts, and these inspire our actions. We are endowed with the intelligence and freedom to order our lives and circumstances according to Christ’s way.
This incident does, though, lead into the exposition of a principle which does indeed have some bearing on the man’s problem. Jesus offers a reflection on wealth and attitudes to wealth which may indeed imply a criticism of the man – perhaps of the man’s seeking to bring his material concerns, his concerns about wealth, in the way of the infinitely more significant spiritual path being trod by Jesus. The man wants his inheritance; Jesus rebuffs him, then continues to teach his disciples, warning them now about the evil of covetousness. Possessions, Jesus will go on to say, don’t matter; indeed, the disciples should sell what possessions they have and store treasure in heaven (12: 33-34).
The parable of the rich fool gives vivid dramatic expression to the teaching, that a life may become so clogged with transient material possessions that the soul loses sight of God, and has no treasure in heaven laid up for eternal life. We are asked to think of the sense of life. In the parable, the jolly, self-satisfied anticipation of a long and well-fed life to come – with, it seems, no thought of sharing – is immediately exposed as the short-sighted thinking it is as God calls time. The absolute contrast between delusion and reality, and the suddenness of the reversal of fortune, force listeners to stand right back and reconsider their values. We are bound to ask: where are our treasures stored?
God, Lord and master of the vineyard, you allot us our tasks and determine the just rewards of our labours.
Help us to bear the burden of the day and accept your will in all things without complaint.
Through Christ our Lord.