(A) Introduction. Read: Luke12v13to21

The Parable of the Rich Fool and, indeed, Jesus' instruction to his disciples not to worry was prompted by a man in the crowd. So, let us look briefly at:

(1) The request. "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." v13.

A man in the crowd feels hard done by. Perhaps, his father didn't leave him anything or he resents his older brother receiving a double portion - as was customary. See Dt21v17. His request for a fair distribution of wealth seems reasonable. Jewish Rabbi's sometimes gave an opinion on such matters. Surely Jesus was interested in justice.

(2) The refusal. "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" v14.

This was a sharp response from Jesus. Why was Jesus so abrupt with the man in the crowd? The Saviour knew he was neither a heavenly nor an earthly magistrate. God had not appointed him to be an arbiter of money matters and nor for that matter had the Jewish authorities. There were plenty of other people qualified to act in this capacity. The apostle Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians considered that such trivial disputes could be settled by men of little account in the church. (See my exposition on 1Cor6v1to11.) Jesus even refused to pass judgement on the woman taken in adultery although she had clearly broken the Law. (See my exposition on john3v1to11)

Jesus did not come to establish or support a political system whether it be socialism or capitalism. That has never been his intention. God appointed him to be the Saviour of the world. He came to rescue men from their fallen condition, seeking the lost, saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

(3) The reappraisal "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." v15.

Jesus urged both brothers to reappraise their lives because in all likelihood both were guilty of greed. There is the greed that hangs on to its own and there is the greed that covets what belongs to someone else.

Jesus did not come to promote a political system but he does give advice on the way to live. He said: "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." There is more to life than being rich and owning an abundance of costly items. Many people can be extraordinary content with very little. Alice and Didi were poor. They lived in a council house in a small Suffolk village. They didn't own so much as a bicycle. If Alice and Didi got to Bury St Edmunds once a week they were lucky. In the winter they would go to bed early. Their neighbour, my friend Dorothy, said, "She could hear Alice reading to Didi in bed. Every so often there would be peals of laughter over the funny bits in the book." Alice had so little yet she was pleased to give away what she had. Two of her other neighbours were a feckless, idle couple. Alice would frequently bake them a cake with no thought of reward. She followed Jesus' blueprint for happiness - the Beatitudes - and there is nothing in those about possessing lots of things.

(B) The rich fool.

Jesus, with enormous skill and so few words, paints a compelling picture of the rich fool. He tells the parable because he knows many in the crowd feel their lives would be so much better if only they were rich. This is undoubtedly true of the vast majority of people in Britain. How else do you account for the millions who do the national lottery every week?

There are four aspects to consider:

(1) His work. "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop."

The man in Jesus' story did not make his money by defrauding, exploiting or corrupting others. He didn't play the stock market, deal in currency, pay himself huge bonuses for taking risks with other people's money or take advantage of the BBC licence fees to award himself an enormous salary. The rich fool was a farmer and as such he did good work. What better work is there than to produce food that all men need. He grew wheat for bread, olives for oil and grapes for wine - the three staples of Mediterranean countries.

I admire farmers. With some help from Scientists, Technologists, Merchants and Retailers farmers produce enough food to feed the world's growing population.

So, we cannot fault the rich man on the work he did - it was necessary and altogether admirable.

(2) His wealth. "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops." "This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones .... ." v18.

The farmer had a happy dilemma. He had bumber yields - especially of grain - so much so that his storage capacity proved inadequate. A landowner does not get yields like that without:

    (a) Skill. I can remember some years ago looking at the factors that affected crop yields in East Anglia. I was amazed at the variability from farm to farm on the same soils. The skill of the farmer was extremely important in determining the profitability of a farm. Even on a small scale this is true. The size of my delphiniums does not begin to compare with those of Peter Webb. When I complain Peter always says, "Well I take a bit of care of mine ya know!"

    (b) Effort. Bumper yields are not achieved without effort. Peter dug me up some roots of his potatoes on my last visit. I said to him, "You've got lovely soil here." He replied, "I've been working this bit a'land for a year or two." Every spring he digs in homemade compost.

    (c) Enterprise. It is pretty clear from the parable that the well-to-do farmer was quick to take the initiative. He was decisive and prepared to make changes. It didn't take him long to decide to tear down his barns and build bigger. He wasn't the sort of farmer to muddle along in the same old way year after year. My grandfather, a market gardener, was like this - and he never became rich whereas Nev, a flower grower from West Row who grew red, white and blue asters the year England won the World Cup, did.

Most people would agree that skill, effort and enterprise should be rewarded.

Yet, however richly deserved, there will always be those who covet the farmer's wealth for the freedom it gives, the status it confers and the pleasures it affords.

(3) His weaknesses.

The rich man had four weaknesses:

    (a) His possessiveness. How cleverly Jesus brought this out - it was my, my, my - my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods and even my soul (AV). There is not the merest hint that all these were gifts from God and should be at God's disposal.

    Christian's can be possessed by their possessions. Jesus said, "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you do not demand it back." Lk6v30. This is a typical saying of the great Teacher. He was against the spirit of possessiveness that says, "Hands off - that's mine." (See exposition on luke6v27to36)

    (b) His preoccupation. The farmer was preoccupied with self. He said: "And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat drink and be merry!" The successful landowner was going to use his wealth entirely for his own benefit.

    Augustine said that the man had no need to build bigger barns - there were barns a plenty; the bosoms of the needy, the houses of widows and the mouths of orphans and of infants. The rich farmer could have at least given his surplus away but no, he was the sort of man who wouldn't part with a penny. I went to see my old friend Dorothy today. She told me of the afternoon her daughter Barbara was visiting Cecil, her brother-in-law. Roy was cutting his hedge - for no charge. Barbara said to her uncle, "Roy's getting hully hot cutting yar hedge - shouldn't we make him a cup of tea." Cecil replied: "No - if he's thirsty he can go home for a drink." Dorothy said: "Barbara couldn't get over it - such meanness!"

    Think of all the pleasure to be had from giving. My mother would have liked more money because she would have had such satisfaction giving it away. Love is generous.

    (c) His priority. (With thanks to W.M. Taylor D.D.) The farmer believed that material things were what really mattered - barns full of corn, oil and wine. He neglected the true riches: reconciliation to God, peace with God, likeness to God and fellowship with God. He is the one who can satisfy. God for us - in the work of his Son, God with us in Providence, God in us by the indwelling Spirit and God before us in the hope of heaven.

    (d) His presumption. "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." v20.

    The rich fool had a false sense of security. He thought his possessions guaranteed security, leisure and pleasure for many years to come. "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." The rich man left God out of his calculations - but, God said: "This night your life will be demanded from you."

    When I was boy Brockley Baptist Chapel's Sunday school outing was always to Walton on the Naze. Most of us found our way to the boating lake where we hired rowing boats. I would be happily rowing near the far shore of the lake when a voice resounding over the water said, "Come in number 11." My time was up. The owner was calling in his own. I would try and spin out my time by rowing slowly and erratically back to base. When God calls me home I can't say, 'No!' There is no putting him off. It is no good asking for an extension or whimpering, "But I'm not ready." There is no dilly dallying on the way when God calls in his own.

    We never know when God will call time on our lives. All the Christian can do is follow the example of Jesus and work while it is day - for the night is surely coming when no man can work.

(4) His worth.

We have all heard the question: "What's he worth?" It is always answered in monetary terms! Occasionally a rich list is published in my daily newspaper. Some men are worth billions.

What was the rich farmer worth to God? Jesus calls him a fool because he was not rich toward God. Think of the opportunities he had to lay up for himself treasure in heaven but he ended up of no value to God.

We need to ask ourselves what we have done for Jesus - what we have accomplished in his name. It is a terrible thing to end up worth nothing to God. We have a name for things that are of no value to us. We call them rubbish or waste and put them in the bin. Trash gets sent to the tip or the incinerator. Jesus teaches that lives worth nothing go to Gehenna - the tip - for destruction. (See my comments on hell in article on the afterlife)

When Jesus died what was he worth? In material terms he left very little! The soldiers confiscated his possessions - the clothes he wore. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor.... . 2Cor3v9. Yet how rich he was to God. Paul wrote to the Philippians: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow .... . Phil3v9and10. Paul reveals the secret of Jesus' high standing with God in that wonderful passage in Philippians. He wrote: He humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Phil2v8.

If we want Jesus to put aside an inheritance for us in heaven we, too, need to obey him - at whatever the cost!

"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul." AV Mk8v36.