Simply Put... You Are a Fool
Having turned and now facing Jerusalem and his coming death, Jesus had been teaching the disciples and the growing crowds that they needed to devote their lives to G-d. It sounds simple and obvious enough but the Bible we know is, at times, anything but simple and obvious. Before the incarnation, G-d taking on human flesh and dwelling among us in Jesus Christ, devotion to G-d was best accomplished by adhering to the Law G-d gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
The problem with seeking G-d’s holiness through human means is that time and time again humans had proven our inability to fulfill the Law given by G-d. There was always room for improvement and thus there was always a barrier, it seemed, between humanity and G-d. Through the incarnation, Jesus revealed that the separation we, humanity, felt was one-sided as G-d had not abandoned that which G-d had breathed life into.
Jesus, through direct and indirect means, called the people back to living in the confidence of G-d’s good purposes for not only them individually but to include all of creation, welcoming those through to be beyond the covenant established by G-d with Abraham.
G-d’s good purposes are not to leave creation on its own, us to our own devices and imagination.
G-d’s good purposes may not match the desires we have conjured up but G-d’s good purposes do provide for our daily need - thus the line Jesus gave the disciples in last week’s reading, “give us this day our daily bread.”
Through parables, even when speaking of matters that are cut and dry, Jesus used earthly examples to reveal heavenly truths. Jesus was not telling fables with quirky and ironic endings. Rather through parables, Jesus revealed the nature of the Kingdom of G-d, his kingdom.
Jesus was approached by a man seeking Jesus’ input and judgment on a family squabble. The dividing of assets after the death of one’s parent caused then and causes today feelings to be hurt, especially when the cultural norm was to give more to the oldest son. This was a practical matter, done to ensure the family name and wealth lived on well-beyond the death of the father.
This younger brother received what was due to him by the cultural norms of the day but he wanted more. The younger brother approached Jesus with a question of greed cloaked in a dispute over fairness. Jesus chose to not intervene on the young brother’s behalf as Jesus is not a celestial genie or judge. Jesus is the savior of the world - all of creation - revealing G-d’s good purposes for us.
Jesus was not focused on patching up family disputes or incidental injustices. The Robert Capon put it this way, “(Jesus’ ministry) is the bearing of the final injustice - death - and the raising up from it of an entirely new and reconciled creation.”
After being unwilling to settle the family squabble, Jesus moved to tell a parable.
A rich man hit the agricultural jackpot. His farm had been producing enough to provide for him but then he hit a bumper crop. The abundance he had was nothing in comparison to the yields from his field during the latest harvest. The rich man tore down the existing barns to store all of the grain and goods his fields had given him. The man had an abundance on top of abundance.
His store of grain and goods was so great that not only did he tear down what he already had for the sake of storing more but he also made plans to take a hiatus from the farm to relax - eat, drink, and be merry.
The word fool seems to be a throwaway line used by Jesus. The word “fool” though is only used four times in the Gospels - two times in Matthew’s Gospel and two times in Luke’s Gospel. Each time “fool” is used Jesus uses the word to describe behavior contrary to G-d’s good purposes for creation
Foolishness, according to Jesus, is not merely a flippant attitude but instead is an obsession/need for more - greed.
A need for more wealth for the sake of having more.
Jesus is not saying that wealth is wrong and that is where the parable trips us up. This is not a parable about selling off all of your possessions and then giving the proceeds to the poor. Jesus is warning the young brother caught up in a family squabble that the possessions he has and the desire for more will one day possess him. Jesus is telling us that the possessions we have and the desire for more will one day possess us.
The wealth accumulated by the rich fool blinded him of his foolishness in destroying the barns he already had so that he could accumulate more. The rich fool’s use of the first-person language, along with his plans for a sabbatical without an end date, signal his true intentions. He was not storing up grain so that he would be prepared for famine or to be able to help a neighbor knocking on his door in the middle of the night seeking three loaves of bread.
Simply put… The rich fool was a rich blind fool, unable to see that what he had gained from the ground had now possessed him.
Back to Robert Capon for a moment - the now deceased Episcopal priest writes that in the eyes of Christ all of us - rich and poor - are “nothing but unreconstructed rich people.” Capon is getting at that at some level, all of us are rich fools because we live in a world where greed, extreme greed - Capon uses the word “avarice” - is the driving force behind the systems that created IRAs, the desire for second homes, and over-indulgent retirement plans. We clutch to our lives and our purposes for them rather than living into the new life in Christ we were clothed in when we exited our baptismal waters.
St. Paul wrote, “(you) have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” Once we clothe ourselves in Christ we are no longer fools because we live in the knowledge of G-d’s good purposes for the new creation inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection.
The fool remained consumed, until his death, with wealth to the point that he lost his soul to that which had demanded so much of him - the possessions he clung to stored up in shiny new barns.
The “they” Jesus spoke of refers to the possessions that possessed the fool - claiming his soul - and demanding his life. The fool was rich in this life only to find the cruel reversal, the reversal his wealth would not warn him of that in death, apart from G-d we die in poverty. It is a cruel reversal to the story that will rearrange your mental furniture.
In Christ, we discover that the poverty we enter into at death - you cannot take it with you - and the sad comprehension of the cruel reversal turns into Good News. Just as Jesus fully revealed G-d’s good purposes for creation in his earthy life, so too is it for us who have clothed ourselves in Christ at the time of our death. There is nothing left to do, no barns to take down or to build up, and instead, through the grace of Jesus Christ, we are invited to lean into G-d’s good purposes revealed to us by Christ. Now we await the day when the fullness of G-d’s new creation, made possible through the faithfulness of Christ, is finally revealed.