My Dear People,
An interruption from someone in the crowd leads to a change of subject away from teaching the disciples not to “worry” or “be afraid” about facing persecution. In response to the man’s demand that Jesus settle an inheritance dispute, Jesus declines with a question that hints at his identity: who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator? The question echoes the one put to Moses: “Who has appointed you ruler and judge over us?” (Ex. 2:14), which Luke includes twice in Stephen’s speech in Acts in showing that, although some Israelites rejected Moses, God appointed him as their redeemer (Acts 7:27,35). Similarly, Jesus will be rejected but will bring about God’s redemption (Luke 21:28).
Rather than resolve the dispute, Jesus uses the occasion to instruct the crowd to be on guard against all greed. As he just did regarding bodily life (see Luke 12:4-5), so now he puts possessions in relative perspective by speaking about treasure in heaven (vv. 21, 33-34).
He makes his point with the parable of the rich fool (vv. 16-210, unique to Luke. The man’s obsession with his material goods leads to self-absorption. He is only concerned about “me”: my harvest, my grain. The problem is not what he thinks it is—where to store his bountiful harvest—but rather his selfish greed. In contrast, Joseph in Genesis also “collected grain” abundantly (Gen 41:49), but the purpose was to feed others in time of famine. Here, the man’s focus on himself even extends into the future: I shall say to myself. The Greek word for “self” (in “myself”) is psychè, which refers to a person’s “life” (Luke 6:9). The man thinks he is in control of his life.
Also, he congratulates himself for having so many good things stored up. He can therefore rest, eat, drink, and be merry. It seems that he has misinterpreted the similar words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes, who advises finding joy despite life’s toil: “There is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad” (Eccles. 8:15). Forgetting also the end of Ecclesiastes (see Eccles 12:5-7), the rich man thinks that his possessions give him security and for many years to come.
However, God calls him a fool, a term Jesus earlier applied to the Pharisees (Luke 11;40). “The fool says in his heart, / ‘There is no God”” (Ps. 14:1). Effectively, the rich man behaved as if there is no God, since he put his trust in his possessions rather than in God. He is an atheist in practice. However, his plans come to naught, because that very night His life (psychè) is demanded of him. The Greek word “demanded” is used to call in a debt (Luke 6:30); Deut. 15:2-3 LXX). The “life” that man considered to be his own was really on loan from God. Though he wished “to save his life,” he ended up losing it (Luke 9:24).
The lesson of the parable is thus like what Jesus said earlier about persecution (12:4-5): keep God in the picture. One should view earthly things, whether negative or positive, from the perspective of eternity. This is precisely what the man did not do. He was too busy thinking about himself to think of God and to thank God for blessing him with a rich harvest. Thus, he was also too busy hoarding his wealth rather than sharing it with the poor (see 18:22-23). He stored up treasure for himself rather than “treasure in heaven” (12:33; 18:22), and so was not rich toward God.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente