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Thy Kingdom Come: The Parable of the Rich Fool

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Luke 10:25-37


Read text. A foolish person is a person who acts unwisely or imprudently. The opposite of foolishness isn’t being smart; it isn’t intelligence. The opposite of foolishness is wisdom. An intelligent person is a person who is able to acquire knowledge. We think of an intelligent person as someone who can think abstractly and can use their brain to solve problems. Today we talk about multiple forms of intelligence. Interior designers and architects are spatially intelligent. Scientists and engineers have a high level of math and logic intelligence. Excellent musicians have musical intelligence. Speakers and writers have linguistic intelligence. But you can be very intelligent in some way and still be unwise. Wisdom is the ability to live in the world. Some might consider street-smarts to be a form of wisdom. It is the ability to apply what knowledge you have in practical ways. You can be very intelligent, and still be a fool.


Every September, 1,100 well-dressed guests gather at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre, a building crafted with ornate woodwork and golden pillars, for an unusual ceremony. Launched in 1991 by science/humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, the “Ig Nobel” awards (a parody of the Nobel Prize) recognizes ten dubious “achievements” per year for their shallow, obvious, foolish, or outlandish research focus or titles. Here’s a sample of past Ig Nobel winners (and keep in mind that these were serious, funded research projects):

The 1996 award winner in physics was Robert Matthews of Aston University, England, for studying Murphy’s Law, and particularly for showing that toast often falls on the buttered side. 1999 also in the physics category, an award was given to Dr. Len Fisher of Sydney, Australia for calculating the optimal way to dunk a biscuit. 2000 in computer science Chris Niswander of Tucson, Arizona received an award for inventing PawSense, software designed to detect when a cat walks across your computer keyboard. 2001 Biology: Buck Weimer of Pueblo, Colorado for inventing Under-Ease, a brand of underwear with a built-in, replaceable charcoal filter that deodorizes flatulence before it is released into the atmosphere. 2002 mathematics: two researchers from India for their paper entitled “Estimation of the Total Surface Area in Indian Elephants.” 2014 in Medicine: a team of four scientists for researching how to treat nosebleeds by packing the nasal lining with strips of cured pork. Also in 2014 for physics: a team of four researchers for measuring the friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin on the floor. Successful studies perhaps, but, who cares? They were a waste of time. Very smart people. Very foolish research.


The Bible talks a lot about the difference between wisdom and foolishness too. In the Bible, to be wise is to accept God’s offer of forgiveness in Christ and to live according to the principles of the kingdom of God, and to be a fool is to do the opposite, to do your own thing. God is the source of wisdom. Proverbs 2:6 says “For the LORD gives wisdom …” And the wisdom of God, the way of the kingdom of God, is often at odds with the way this world operates. “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19a). Real wisdom flies in the face of what this world considers to be wisdom. Again in Proverbs we read that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (14:12). Those words are repeated word for word in Proverbs 16:25.


So Jesus is busy teaching a huge crowd of people. Luke 12:1 tells us that “so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another …” And Jesus has been talking about life and death, about love and grace, about hypocrisy and hell, about the love and fear of God, and out of the blue, someone in the crowd yells out “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (12:13). Had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what Jesus had been talking about. This guy had obviously been paying no attention at all to what Jesus had been saying. Now be honest. How many of you have ever been distracted by something during the sermon? Anyone? Maybe it was something happening in the sanctuary. But more than likely, it was something, big or little, that had been happening in your life at the time. Ever come back to the moment during a sermon and realize that you’ve heard nothing that the pastor has said for the last 5, 10, 15 minutes? Raise your hand if you’ve ever been distracted during the sermon. Now, look around. The people with their hands down are distracted right now. See, this passage gives me hope, because it happened to Jesus too.


Apparently, this guy’s father had died, and his brother, who was probably older and therefore in control of the distribution of the father’s resources, was not giving him what he thought he was supposed to get. And there he is, in the midst of a crowd thousands strong listening to Jesus teach, and he’s heard absolutely nothing that Jesus says. He’s fuming about his unfair treatment at the hands of his brother, who was probably right there too. It’s a crazy, off-topic interruption. His bitterness and distracted mind kept him from hearing anything that Jesus had to say.


You can tell Jesus viewed this man’s outburst as an off-topic interruption too. Because he said “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” There’s almost a tone of annoyance in Jesus voice there. He addressed him as “man,” as if he were a stranger. Jesus wasn’t going to be drawn into settling this man’s domestic dispute. That isn’t why he came. As master preacher Haddon Robinson said, “Again and again, men and women [give] Jesus Christ … faint praise, trying to make him less than he is. For example, there are many people who like to refer to Jesus as a teacher. If only we would follow his principles, they say, we could settle the disputes among nations and among men and women. If Jesus Christ came merely to be a teacher, however, he was a pathetic failure. The world had better teaching when he came than it was able to live up to.


There are others who tell us that Jesus came to be an example. If in the situations of life we could only figure out what Jesus would have done and then do it, we would find that disputes and animosities would be settled. But I say to you that if Jesus came simply to be a model and an example, all he does is mock me. I can no more live the kind of life God calls me to live by trying to imitate Jesus than I could become a concert pianist by trying to imitate Van Cliburn. (Or maybe today I would say that I can no more live the kind of life God calls me to live by trying to imitate Jesus than I could become a professional basketball player trying to imitate LeBron James.) Jesus Christ came to bring God to man and man to God. He did not come to make bad men good or good men better. Jesus Christ came to make men and women who are spiritually dead alive. And anything short of that is to miss the reason for his coming.”


Jesus had no interest in serving as arbiter between this man and his brother. But he used the outburst to make a point. Look at V. 15. This was going to be a teachable moment for everyone. And his warning: “Beware of greed.” The word translated as “greed” or “covetousness” there is pleonexia, a word used to describe an insatiable desire for more. More what? More anything. More of whatever than you really need. He isn’t just talking about money, but money is included. He’s talking about every arena of life. Beware of the incessant drive for more. Why? Because in the kingdom of God, your life is so much more than what you have. Most of us today view greed, covetousness, as one of the lesser sins. If I have to be plagued with something, better that than lust or anger. If I have to break one of the ten commandments, better the one about greed than the one about murder. Now, do not hear me wrong. I am not suggesting that it’s better to go out and murder someone than it is to be greedy. My point is that we’ve become so accustomed to the constant drive for more, bigger, better, newer, that we’ve been desensitized to its impact on our lives.


Pastor Timothy Keller, who is just now retiring as lead pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, said “Some years ago I was doing a seven-part series of talks on the Seven Deadly Sins at a men’s breakfast. My wife, Kathy, told me, “I’ll bet that the week you deal with greed will be the lowest attendance.” She was right. People packed it out for “Lust” and “Wrath” and even for “Pride.” But nobody thinks they are greedy. As a pastor I’ve had people come to me and confess that they struggle with almost every kind of sin. Almost. I cannot recall anyone ever coming to me and saying, “I spend too much money on myself. I think my greedy lust for money is harming my family, my soul, and people around me.” Greed hides itself from the victim. The money god’s modus operandi includes blindness to your own heart.[i] We might see greed in someone else. We probably don’t think much about it if we do. Not really. But we certainly don’t see it in ourselves. And why is greed a big deal? Because the opposite of greed is giving freely, generosity, and it is exactly that trait that is at the heart of forgiveness and grace.


But Jesus wants to hammer his point home, so he doesn’t stop with the warning. He tells a story to illustrate it. Look at V. 16. Now, Jesus is not criticizing the man for being successful and having a lot. This isn’t a diatribe against wealth. Some of the most faithful servants of God in the Bible were wealthy people. Abraham was a very wealthy man by the standards of his day. Job had great wealth, lost it, and because of his refusal to curse God was given more wealth than he had lost. David and Solomon were both incredibly wealthy. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were fairly well-to-do and they were among Jesus’ closest friends. A wealthy landowner named Joseph of Arimathea donated the cave in which Jesus’ body was entombed. And several wealthy men and women supported the early church by offering their large homes as gathering places and supporting the church financially. This guy was a farmer. Crops don’t plant, weed, and harvest themselves. It’s incredibly hard work today. How much more so in Jesus’ day, without modern farming equipment? And Jesus doesn’t condemn him for being industrious, for seeking to grow his farming enterprise. This guy worked hard. Jesus isn’t condemning hard work, success, even wealth. But he does call the man foolish? Why? There are three reasons.


The first is that he forgot all about God. God didn’t figure into his equation at all. One thing farmers tend to be VERY aware of is that their success is in some ways dependent upon things over which they have little to no control. Mostly the weather. He couldn’t control the rain, or the sun, or the temperature. It’s possible to work incredibly hard as a farmer and do everything right and still lose your crop to the weather. In his mind, his success was all about his aptitude for farming. He had no concept of the blessing of God on his land and harvest. And giving back to God never entered his mind. The people were to give the “firstfruits,” their first ten percent, to God. But there’s no evidence that this man gave God a second thought. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom …” (Psalm 111:10). This man gave no thought to God at all. There was no wisdom in him.


Today it’s a little more subtle because most of us aren’t farmers. But still we fail to cultivate gratitude. We want all of the credit for who, and where, we are. Brene Brown has given one of the most watched TED Talks of all time. In that talk, she pushes us to embrace our own brokenness, with the reality that we are not alone in it, that we are – or easily could be – just one step away from the broken people all around us. Brown says: We are “those people.” The truth is … we are the “others.” Most of us are one paycheck, one divorce, one drug- addicted kid, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one sexual assault, one drinking binge, one night of unprotected sex, or one affair away from being “those people”—the ones we don’t trust, the ones we pity, the ones we don’t let our children play with, the ones bad things happen to, the ones we don’t want living next door.”


Second, he gave no thought to others. There was no thought of the poor who were all around him. There was no thought of anyone else at all. In the Greek, the word “my” appears four times and the word “I” eight times in Vv. 17-19. He was thinking ONLY about himself and his security. “Soul, you have ample good laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” No thought of others. No sense of service, of helping anyone at all. All that mattered was his retirement. Jesus wasn’t even criticizing him for thinking about retiring. The problem wasn’t even there. It was in his lack of consideration for anyone or anything else. Those who live in the kingdom of God cultivate generous hearts, filled with gratitude for all that God has done.


And third, he forgot about what lasts. Look at Vv. 20-21. He’d made it. He was set. No more work. No more day after day after day of brutal work with the hot sun blazing on his back. No more worrying about too much rain, too little rain, too much sun, not enough sun. He was set for the rest of his life. Which was truer than he knew, because his life would end that very night. Whose will all these things be then? When Jesus talks about storing up for yourself treasures in heaven, he doesn’t mean things that you will have only after you die. Heaven is the sphere in which God’s rule and reign are present in their fullness, which as the Lord’s prayer makes clear, is something that will one day come here to earth, our sphere.


In literature the story is told of a man who opens a newspaper and discovers the date on the newspaper is six months in advance of the time he lives. He begins to read through the newspaper, and he discovers stories about events that have not yet taken place. He turns to the sports page, and there are scores of games not yet played. He turns to the financial page and discovers a report of the rise or fall of different stocks and bonds. He realizes this can make him a wealthy man. A few large bets on an underdog team he knows will win will make him wealthy. Investments in stocks that are now low but will get high can fatten his portfolio. He is delighted. He turns the page and comes to the obituary column and sees his picture and story. Everything changes. The knowledge of his death changes his view about his wealth.[ii] Our job as disciples of Jesus is to bring the priorities and reign of God to bear in the face of the self-absorption and greed of this world. Life in the kingdom of God is marked by gratitude, by generosity, and with an eye on eternity and the things that really matter.

[i] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods (Dutton, 2009), p. 52

[ii] Haddon Robinson, author and Gordon-Conwell Seminary professor