The Rich Fool
—The Rev John Quick, 31 July 2016
Luke 12. 13-21
+May I speak in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit , Amen.
Today our Gospel reading is the parable of the Rich Fool. Our understanding of the story hinges on how we perceive the use of the word rich. In our language, the two words, ‘rich’ and ‘wealthy’ tend to be used synonymously, whereas ‘rich’ can be used to describe a fullness of life that is not dependent on money or possessions.
I am sure that many of us can recall people and families we have known whose lives we would describe as rich, even though they were not especially wealthy or had many possessions.
I think the title used for this parable in the Jerusalem Bible is more helpful – ‘On hoarding possessions’. The Irish writer Jack McArdle succinctly writes:
In his story, Jesus tells us about something we all know only too well. The first million will never satisfy! It may be the most difficult to make, but it can generate a compulsion to accumulate, and the person can become driven to go one better. Again it is the failure to distinguish between wealth and riches. Some of the richest people I know have very little of this world’s goods. There are no greater riches than a loving, kind heart. Money can’t buy the gifts that bring happiness.1
The parable speaks to the reader on several different levels. It is easy to skip over the preamble to the story that highlights several issues. The first is that the man in the crowd wants Jesus to give a judgement over a property dispute between a man and his brother. Jesus neatly sidesteps this issue by asking the man on whose authority should Jesus do this? Only then does Jesus focus in on the dangers of greed and avarice.
It is a powerful parable and interesting to note that it is the only parable in the gospel in which God speaks. And the first word attributed to God is not too complimentary: he calls the rich man, ‘Fool’, a word that implies the denial of God.
The life of Jesus can be used to highlight to all Christians what richness of life really means. This can be confusing as Jesus turns the material goals of most human beings on their heads. In the materially wealthy part of the world in which we live, it is well worth us re-considering what is really important.
Jesus was rich…if we regard power and possessions as part of being rich for he is Lord of the universe. Yet he chose to be born in the poverty of homelessness, in a poor animal shelter. And on his travels he relied on the kindness of others to offer him a place to rest his head at night.
Jesus was rich…if we regard an integrated personality as part of being rich. Yet he chose to be among the marginalised and outcasts of the system, and he brought peace to the disturbed and possessed.
Jesus was rich… if we regard health as part of being rich. Yet he came as physician to the infirm and unhealthy.
Jesus was rich in his celebration of life. He restored life to some who had died. Yet he submitted to the ultimate poverty that is death.
Jesus, the Word of the Father, whom the heavens cannot contain, chose the poverty of human flesh, and later the poverty of bread and wine to contain his presence.
Jesus was rich in many ways but chose to be with us in our needs so that his poverty might enrich us.
I spoke last week about praying the Lord’s Prayer from the heart being a risky business. ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ For many in our world today that is a big ask. We pray the words but could we do it?
The murder or martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel underlines the risks of following Christ but also the need highlighted by today’s parable about being ready to meet God at any time when we might be called to his presence.
As we pray especially for the people of St Etienne-du-Rouvray let us recall that both that place and that church were named after our the same saint that is our patron—St Stephen—the first martyr for Christianity.
In our prayers today let us remember all those who have died like Fr Jacques and Oscar Romero, not necessarily for what they say or do at that moment but out of hatred for the faith of the Church. Such martyrs are killed simply because they carry out a just and faithful life, like Christ himself.
In a world where there seems to be so much intolerance, evil and hatred let us give thanks for the richness of our Christian lives and pray that we may resist the temptations of amassing possessions and slaves to materialism.
Let us pray:–
Lord, let us not hear the false call of greed, the promises of lasting happiness that the riches of this world cannot fulfil. Make us truly thankful for all the blessings of this life: the things of beauty, the things that give ease and comfort, the things that make me able to help others, but let me never set them in the place of true joy that endures for ever. Amen.
1And That’s the Gospel Truth—Reflections for Year B, by Jack McArdle, Columba Press 2000. Page 179.