And he told them a parable, saying, “The farm of a certain rich man bore well. And he talked it over with himself, saying, ‘What shall I do? I don’t have space to store my crops.’ And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will take down my storehouses and build bigger, and there I will gather all my grain and my good things, and I will say to myself, ‘Self, you have many good things laid by for many years. Take it easy, eat, drink, and enjoy it.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your life will be demanded from you. Then whose will be what you’ve prepared?’ Thus (is) the one who accumulates treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21, Pioneers’ New Testament)
This parable is well known in Christian circles, but at least in the Sunday Schools I went to, the message is usually something to the effect that “you can’t take it with you” (well, when it’s not fear-mongering of the “where would you go if you died tonight” variety). Less common is to examine the lessons Jesus offers us on the economics of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus’ story begins with the statement that the man’s farm “bore well.” This concept will be blindingly obvious to anyone who’s ever depended on the land for their livelihood, but perhaps not to the rest of us. Any farmer knows that no matter how skilled he is, no matter the technology he brings to bear on his agricultural efforts, and no matter how hard he and/or his employees work, there is an element of the outcome of any harvest that is simply out of his hands. The godly farmer knows that “it is God who gives the increase,” while others ascribe their harvests (good or bad) to luck, the weather, or other forces…but all know that success or failure are not entirely their own doing.
The rest of us, particularly in the West and most particularly in the United States, seem to have lost this awareness. Listen to any “self-made man,” or to any of the many apologists for the American capitalist system, and you would think that wealth is directly correlated to hard work and creativity. Rarely do the financially-successful acknowledge the extent to which they owe their wealth to accidents of birth, environment, and external forces. Rarer still is any admission that the poor they so easily disparage work as hard and as creatively as they. Even here in the U.S., not many of us can realistically hope for a significant uptick in our financial status, but most of us are one unforseen disaster away from financial ruin. Surely, we stand or fall in part through nothing but the mercy of God.
This, of course, calls us to think about how we ought to respond if we do achieve success. The farmer in Jesus’ parable responded in good American form: enlarge the storehouse, diversify the investments, maybe arrange a tax shelter or two, and get ready to enjoy “the good life.” I love what Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven ™ Life, had to say in a video I saw once (and sorry, I don’t have a link): “If you write a book that starts ‘It’s not about you,’ and you make millions off of the sales, it might occur to you that the money isn’t FOR you.” Rick had a point, and it’s Jesus’ point too. If God does in fact give/enable wealth, he intends it to be used his way, not stored up for the party.
One of Jesus’ most compelling–and perhaps frightening–sayings is found at the end of the chapter, Luke 12:48.
Much is demanded from all to whom much is given. They will ask much more of the one to whom much is entrusted.
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Note: Biblical quotations are taken from The Pioneers’ New Testament, an original translation from Greek done by my Mom. If any of you are interested in a different take from the average Bible translation, I encourage you to check it out at The Pioneers’ New Testament blog.