Jesus told many parables, and this particular one is about a farmer building bigger barns. But it is titled the parable of the rich fool. In Scripture, it follows a warning about hypocrisy and precedes the command not to worry about what we need in life. It appears that in this short story there are challenges for us to consider carefully. What is Jesus saying exactly and what is the meaning of the parable of the rich fool?
The Parable of the Rich Fool
The Parable of the rich fool is found in Luke 12:13-21. Jesus had been talking to, and teaching, His disciples when a man called out to Him from the crowd. The man asked Jesus to intervene in a dispute he was having with his brother. He wanted his brother to divide an inheritance with him.
Jesus answered that He was not appointed as a judge between the man and his brother. (The law already gave clear guidance about inheritance – that the eldest son was entitled to a double portion.) Instead, Jesus gives a warning:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”Luke 12:15 NIV
Then Jesus tells the story of a rich man who one year had an abundant harvest. And so the man decided to build bigger barns to store all the surplus grain so that he could take it easy and enjoy life. But God reprimanded him and called him a fool. That very night the man would die, his life would be taken from him. Who then would benefit from what he had prepared?
Jesus ends the story with a sobering statement about the consequences of greed.
Why Was The Rich Man Called A Fool?
The man in the crowd asked Jesus a legitimate question. He was seeking justice and addressed his question to Jesus as ‘Teacher’ or ‘Rabbi’. They were the ones who would give advice and judgments on disputes within the community. But Jesus refused to answer his question and instead told a story.
Jesus discerned first of all, that the man asking the question was rich. That would have been a simple observation from the way that he was dressed. Was this rich man a fool? Maybe the answer is already there in the question that he asked…
If you are already rich, why would you need more? Why would you need to enter into a dispute with your own brother? I wonder did the man stay and listen to Jesus’ story, and if he did would he have recognized himself?
At the end of the story Jesus reveals why the rich man is called a fool:
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”Luke 12:21
It is foolishness to depend on material possessions, because true and abundant life comes from a different perspective. Read on as we explore the full meaning of the parable of the rich fool…
The Meaning of The Parable of The Rich Fool
Jesus loved to tell stories and He used parables to share important messages with His listeners. Often Jesus related a parable in answer to a question. But these stories are not explanations or even illustrations but a challenge for personal application.
Jesus invites His followers, those who are earnestly seeking Him, to enter the story. To pause for a moment and to consider the possibility, are we in any shape or form the barn builder?
Today in our Western society we are all considered rich, compared to many other parts of the world. But the riches, the abundance, the wealth, in this story is not the problem. The problem is the man’s perspective towards his prosperity.
The rich man is called a fool for taking the abundance of God’s provision and hoarding it for himself. The text says, ‘the ground yielded an abundant harvest’. God had blessed the man’s labor with the expectation that he would be a good steward.
Related Post: What Does the Parable of the Talents Mean?
Blessing comes with responsibility, and this would have been familiar teaching to Jesus’ listeners. The commands to make provision for the poor and vulnerable are there within the Old Testament law. (eg. Deuteronomy 24:19-22)
The Moral Lesson of The Parable of The Rich Fool
The moral lesson of the parable of the rich fool was not a new teaching. It was founded on the Old Testament commandments and the law. Jesus summed this up in answer to another question on how to inherit eternal life:
“He answered, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”Luke 10:27 –
The foolishness of the rich man, was not his wealth but his perspective and his priorities. His perspective towards the riches he had been blessed with and his priority towards himself. He did not see his God-given blessing as a resource to be used for good but as a source for personal satisfaction. Generosity is a characteristic of God and therefore of His people.
“Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”Deuteronomy 15:10-11
God is Generous
God is generous with His provision and this is displayed for all to see in His creation. We are surrounded by beauty and an array of wonders. God did not hold back in His creation; He is not a minimalist but a God of abundance!
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”Psalm 19:1-2
God is generous in His love for us. He has lavished us with love, His love is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. God loves us with a never-ending, unmeasurable love. A love that pursues us and seeks us out, a love that will never let us go! God did not hold back; He gave everything for us – a sacrificial love that is demonstrated by Jesus.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”1 John 3:1
All Good Gifts Come from God
The moral lesson in the parable of the rich fool comes as a warning. God is a generous God and had abundantly blessed the man causing him to prosper. The building of bigger barns to store and protect a good harvest from the elements was, and still is, standard practice for farmers.
But it was the hoarding, the storing up, and keeping the blessing for himself that was the issue. Jesus started this section of His teaching with a warning to be on our guard against greed. It is insidious and corruptive, greed can creep in and take hold of all of us.
Often greed will disguise itself as something good – because the enemy is not called an angel of light for no reason. Selfishness and greed can be rationalized and we can justify our actions to ourselves.
Maybe that is what the man who called out to Jesus with his question was doing? In my head I can hear him now because I know I have heard similar arguments before – ‘It’s not about the money, it’s the principle.’ ‘I just want what is rightfully mine.’
But the kingdom that Jesus was establishing has a counter-culture. This is to give without expectation of return. To be willing to give up our right to be right – and not to take a brother to court. But to love and keep on loving so that we are generous with all that we have received from God. To have and to keep a kingdom perspective…
"The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being." Luke 12:34 The Message