What’s the Meaning of the Parable of the Rich Fool?

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What should be our attitude about our possessions? How should we respond when God blesses us? These are the questions Jesus addresses in the Parable of the Rich Fool. In typical fashion, Jesus responds to a situation by cutting to the heart of the issue with a thought-provoking story.

The story starts in Luke 12:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:13-15).

It was fairly common for families to go to rabbis to mediate difficult family situations, but that’s not what’s going on here. This man wants Jesus to step in and demand that his brother split the inheritance up.

There could be several reasons for this demand. Maybe the elder brother has inherited his family’s estate, and he’s not being equitable in its distribution. Or it could be that the brother just wants his share of the family business so he can leave. Whatever the reason, Jesus takes this opportunity to hone in our relationship with our stuff.

If people could internalize the truth that acquiring possessions will never bring us the happiness and fulfillment we long for, it would be enough. But Jesus elaborates on this teaching with a parable.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”

Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).

This parable makes a lot of people squirm. For many of us, it’s not readily apparent what this man did wrong. He had a bumper year and was left with a surplus of grain. He decided to build larger facilities to store his excess so that he could retire on it. What’s wrong with that?

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Living in a closed system

The problem becomes more apparent when you step back and take a closer look at the parable. This man is living in a story that’s simply about him. You can see this in how the pronouns are used: my crops, my barns, my surplus grains … This man’s world is a completely closed ecosystem where he is in control.

While it’s prudent to think about your future, God doesn’t bless us so that we can spend the excess on ourselves. Paul makes this abundantly clear in his second letter to the church at Corinth:

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (2 Corinthians 9:11).

God doesn’t intend our blessings to stop with us; He means for them to flow through us. And that’s shown at the end of this parable. Instead of choosing how he would bless others with his new-found wealth, the Rich Fool is going to die and have absolutely no say in how his belongings are distributed. He could have experienced the joy of blessing others, but now he’s lost everything.

Life is more than our possessions

It’s easy to adopt the mindset that acquiring stuff can bring us happiness, meaning, and security. But as Jesus says at the outset, life is more than our possessions. And instead of constantly focusing on what we do and do not have, we need to be preparing ourselves to stand faithfully before Jesus at the end of our life. Because at that moment, it won’t matter how much was in our bank account. All we’ll care about is hearing Him say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.”

If you want to learn more about Jesus’s teachings, check out All the Parables of Jesus.