Maybe for some of you it’s actually happened in real life, but I imagine many of us have had some version of the bad dream where you sign up for a class and forget to go the whole semester. Until the day when the final exam comes and when you sit down at the desk not a single thing on the test looks familiar. Or the nightmare about the job interview you spend days and weeks preparing for with all kinds of networking and research behind the scenes. Then the day finally arrives and you sit down across from the interviewer only to realize you applied for the wrong job and none of the questions you anticipated are ever asked.
Whether you wake up in the middle of the night in a panic or break into a cold sweat in the middle of the day, the dreaded realization is undeniable. When it comes to the equivalent of the big final exam, did I study hard enough? Am I confident in what I’m about to do? Do I even remember what I signed up for in the first place?
These thoughts aren’t pleasant, comforting thoughts. Yes, there’s a sense of relief if you realize you were just dreaming. Everything goes back to the way you expect it and you can take a deep breath and go back to sleep or move on quickly.
The one true thing, however, is that one day it will all be real. Someday, one day, our life will be demanded of us. And when that day comes, at some point in time down the road, Jesus will call us to account for the way in which we have lived our lives here on earth.
That accountability, that moment of truth, is what the Parable of the Rich Fool is about. It’s about the time of reckoning. It’s about that split second when we meet Jesus face to face and lay our cards out on the table in front of him. For many of us, contemplating that kind of make it or break it judgment is fraught with second guessing. We wonder whether we’ve gotten it wrong somewhere along the way. We wonder if we’ve been valuing the wrong things. We wonder if there was something we might have done differently over the years. Meanwhile, the tone of this morning’s parable offers one crystal clear piece of advice. Be on guard for there is no telling when the reckoning will come.
Before we go any further, let’s backtrack. Why is the rich farmer known as a fool in this morning’s parable? Isn’t he arguably both wise and responsible? After all, he has a vast and thriving farming business. In fact, his land has produced so abundantly that he does not have enough storage space to hold all of his bounty.
Like any astute entrepreneur, the farmer makes plans to pull down his barns and build bigger barns so that all the grain can be stored safely. And once he’s able to follow through on his plans, the farmer will successfully and effectively create a lifelong savings account. He will have stored away enough resources to sustain himself not only in the near future but well into his golden years.
The actions of the rich farmer find echoes in the American dream. Work hard. Save well. Live comfortably. Retire in style. It’s the kind of rose-colored vision our 2016 presidential candidates paint for people across our country every time they launch into their standard stump speeches.
But here’s the point of Luke’s Gospel story. The rich farmer is not a fool because he has a lot of money. Nor is he a fool because he saves for the future. The rich farmer is a fool because he appears to live only for himself. What’s more, the rich farmer truly believes that he can secure his life strictly on account of all that he possesses.
To put it bluntly, the rich man is foolish because he can’t get out of his own way. When the rich man talks in this morning’s parable, he talks only to himself. By the same token, the only person he refers to is himself. Listen again to three key verses in this morning’s Scripture lesson…
“What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Despite the fact that the rich man’s land has produced beyond his wildest expectations, he expresses not one iota of gratitude to God or even to the workers who planted and harvested his bumper crop. Here he has more grain and more goods stowed away than he could ever hope to use in his lifetime, and yet the rich man has no thought of sharing his wealth with others. And the notion that God might want him to be generous with some of his resources never crosses his mind.
What the rich fool doesn’t understand or appreciate is the fact that God is the one who gives people life. And no matter how hard the rich man or how hard you and I may try, there is nothing we can do to help make us more secure. God could demand our lives back at any instant. And just like the writer of Ecclesiastes once put it in relation to our earthly materialism…”all is vanity and a chasing after the wind.” Or in more modern vernacular, ”you can’t take it with you.”
The thing that makes Christians different from those around us is not that we don’t have savings accounts in our lives. We do. Instead, it’s the realization that our lives consist of something more than what we can store up here on earth. Jesus does not want us to get caught up in daily anxiety and worry, striving to work harder and earn higher and accumulate more and more. What he wants is for us to realize that there is more at stake…so much more that we are here in the world for.
Ultimately, it’s all about priorities. It’s about how we invest the gifts that God has given to us. And it’s about how our lives are fundamentally aligned. Aligning toward ourselves and our passing desires is one option. Aligning toward God and our neighbor and the church and toward God’s mission to bless and redeem the world now and for generations still to be. That is the other option.
The parable of the Rich Fool invites us to live lives that are rich toward God. Lives that are rich in forgiveness and gentleness and hospitality. Lives that lead us to discover our true value and to be grateful for who we are and the lessons we have learned…
I’ve been an ordained minister now for almost twenty-four years. And over those years I have had the sacred privilege of sitting with a number of people who were nearing the end of their lives. And sitting with a number of people as they have taken their final earthly breath. And sitting with countless loved ones as they have shared stories about the one who died.
In all my years of ministry I have yet to hear one person express the following regret. “I wish I hadn’t given so much away. I wish I had amassed more and saved more and kept more for myself.” Not even once have I heard someone say those words.
But we don’t have to wait until the time of our death and we stand face to face before Jesus. There is an important question worth asking ourselves regularly throughout our lifetimes.
“Is this who God wants me to be?” Not necessarily because we’re afraid God might be disappointed in us. But because we believe God has good things in store for us if we live life in God’s image with compassion and generosity and gratitude…
“This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” May God bless these words from Holy Scripture to our daily human understanding. Amen.