"Wise up!" we say when someone plays the fool or is being foolish. That's the message of this parable that is as arresting as it is alarming.
The fool wasn't rich in his own eyes. But before his ground produced one sprout, one bud, one grain of anything, much less a bumper crop, Jesus says he was rich. Plousios is a favorite word of Luke's. He uses it 11/ 28 times it's found in the NT. Luke speaks of rich neighbors, the man with the unjust steward is rich, the rich man and Lazarus, short Zacchaeus was rich, and the walk-away Joe of a young man was extremely rich. Of all of these Luke uses the adjective plousios which comes from the noun ploutos in which you hear the familiar Pluto. What you kids know as cartoon dog, what people my age were taught was our solar system's last planet, was before all this an alternate name for Hades, Pluto was the god of the underworld, of hell. This might be the first clue of where this is all going.
The fool didn't believe he was rich, but he was, and when his banner crop comes in, it starts a dialogue within himself: what's he to do with all this grain? He has no place to store so much, and though rich, he's obsessed with keeping it all. Ecclesiastes 5:12 predicts this disquiet: "The full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep." And Ecclesiastes 5:11 further paints the rich man's dilemma: "When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?" And Proverbs 23:5 rounds out the wisdom of Solomon on riches: "Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle."
Wise up! No one, let me be clearer, not one of us here is rich in our own eyes. We're all Linda Ronstadt: poor, poor pitiful me. I've lost count how many times over the decades that I've tried to share the Biblical wisdom of this last paragraph. No one has taken the point that they were indeed rich or the warning about seeking, hoarding, or obsessing over riches. To the man telling me of his plans to be rich, I quote Proverbs 23:4: "Labor not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom," and he responds, "There's nothing wrong with riches." Failing to wise him up with the Bible I resort to mythology's Midas touch, and I'm touched for bringing that up. I've not convinced anyone that he is indeed rich, least of all, most of all, myself. I can't be the rich fool in this parable because I'm not rich.
We're about to fall fast, so hang on. We're going to hit the last verse of our text with a thud that may stun you. If you translate it as the insert does, you have the perfect stewardship text: "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." Wise up! The stewardship sermon says. You're the rich fool if you're not being a stellar steward. But what if that translation is wrong? What if this 3 letter Greek preposition eis only means "toward" with verbs of going, sending, or moving, but means with respect to" or with reference to' when used with a person or thing? Than the translation "rich in relationship with God" (GW) or "rich in God" (JB) or literally, "rich into God" is better.
Wise up! Go home and read what follows this text. There you'll hear Jesus say in God we are so filthy rich we have not a care in this world, but don't stop there. Go home and ponder 2 Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." And what riches do you think is being talked about? The fool thought he knew. Because the fool was wise in his own eyes. Surely you see this? He had a great business plan for holding on to all of his riches. He would tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones. He ran the numbers and he would never run out of money. He foolishly concludes: with plenty to live on he had plenty of life to live. This is the basis for all retirement planning. The assumption is the only worry' you have is running out of money in your lifetime; there is no consideration with running out of life, or whether you're really alive right now.
Wise up! David says we're to pray to the Lord, "Teach me, O Lord, . the number of days I have left so that I may know how temporary my life is.." Because "everyone alive is like a whisper in the wind." And as for riches this same Psalm says, "They accumulate riches without knowing who will get them" (Ps 39:4-6). Psalm 90 prays, "Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom." You know who said that? Moses. It's the only Psalm by him. After burying 15,000-plus people a year for 40 years, Moses still prays to be taught to number his days. Neither wealth nor health generate even physical life, and Ephesians 2:1 teaches that no matter how much of these you might have, apart from Christ you're dead in your trespasses and sins. "All your money won't another minute buy" sang Kansas. It's takes Jesus to bring life to sinners dead in their trespasses. It takes Jesus giving up the riches of Heaven, the riches of God, to take the place of poor, miserable sinners under the Law of God and under the wrath of God that breaking His Law calls forth. Jesus did both "so that you through His poverty might become rich."
Wise up! There are riches that don't profit in the day of wrath. That's what Proverbs 11:4 teaches, "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death." Proverbs 11:28 also sets the foolishness of trusting in riches against the righteousness that Christ won in His Person by His Work and now gifts to you in that font, by these Words, and at the altar where His Body and Blood are. It says, "He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish as a branch." Okay, that's it; we can go now. Can we? Are you prepared this very night for God to demand your soul from you? See images from the 1990 movie "Ghost" where black-smoke-beings come and take souls away.
That is the image if you regard your soul as being demanded by God. The fool did because he believed he was in complete control. When confronted with the good problem of too much harvest for his small barns, he consults only himself. And he didn't just think to himself, he dialogizomai in himself; you can hear the English word dialogue'. He's talking to himself! But that's not crazy because he believes he's the smartest man in the room and he believes he's in total control of not just his possessions but his very soul. So, it's no surprise that he assures himself that he has made the right decision: Here's what he says literally and it should goose bump you: "And I will say to the soul of me, "Soul, you have many good things being laid up for many years. You must rest; you must eat; you must drink, and you must be merry." Can you see why when God shows up that very night for his soul - the insert translates life' but it's more accurate to translate soul' it comes as a demand? The rich fool doesn't think anyone but he owns his possessions let alone his soul.
Wise up! This is you and me in our sinfulness. Why am I so frustrated? Why am I so angry? Because things don't happen when I want them to happen, the way I want them to happen. Because for once I could see my bumper crop coming in and for once I had a good plan on how to deal with it. Oh sure God was in there somewhere. I mean I prayed all the time for Jesus not only to be my guest but to let these gifts to me be blest. Wise up! Remember what Proverbs 23:4 says in the matter of riches, cease from your own wisdom? Paul says in Philippians 4:12 that knowing how to be rich and be poor is a secret that God must impart by revelation. And where does Paul land? I should say on Whom does he land? On the One who strengthens him: God in Christ.
You have several of these revelatory moments in Scripture where a man's view of things dare we say again is flipped? After 25 years of fretting that he and wife Sara were getting too old to have the Promised Seed, Abraham falls on the ground laughing when he realizes the Lord has purposely waited for them to get too old so the child would be one of promise not nature. David is fixated on building a house for the Lord and when the Lord lets him know that He will build David a house that lasts forever in the Christ, David plops down before the Lord and says, "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that You have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Lord God, You have also spoken about the future of the house of Your servantWhat more can David say to you?...For the sake of Your word and according to Your will, You have done this great thing" (2 Samuel 7:18-21).
other Psalms of David instruct us on what is going on and where our Lord would
lead us in the matters of earthly riches, heavenly treasure, and our very
souls. In Psalm 131:1 he says, "I do not concern myself with great matters or with
things too wonderful for me." In Psalm 139 he says, "You are familiar with all
my ways. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me." This is where the Proverbs 30
leaves the matter of riches and death.
"I've asked you for two things. before I die: Don't give me either poverty or riches. Feed me the food I need."
Wise up! In your Father's hand is where Jesus taught us to leave these matters according to the Lord's Prayer. There He taught us that we pray according to His will not ours, that there would never come a day we would not need to pray for bread for our bodies and forgiveness for our souls, and not need to be delivered from every evil of not only body and soul but of possessions. Wise up! Only a fool wants it otherwise. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (20190825); Luke 12: 13-21