Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rich Fool

Luke has a story Jesus told in chapter 12 of his gospel. It's been called the Rich Fool. Fool in the Bible doesn't mean stupid but Unwise in a Biblical sense. That would mean someone who looks at the world only through his/her own eyes. God is not in view. That was the Rich Fool's point of view. When he made the decision about what to do with his surplus, he talked only with himself. Not with his family, his friends or his spiritual advisor. Certainly not with God. This proved to be his fatal error. Since, God spoke to him or about him and said, "Tonight your life is demanded of you." The phrase that is used in Luke is a banking phrase. It means "your loan is being called in." From God's point of view our lives are on loan from Him. Life is not a right nor an entitlement. We don't deserve 8 days or 80 years. Every moment we live is a gift from God.

So all our stuff is a gift, too. We don't own it. None of it. When we die, which is the fact of life the Rich Fool overlooked, we take nothing with us. Tolstoy has a short story about a greedy man who had a chance to own as much land as he could encircle in one day, from sunup to sundown. He bit off more than he could run around and he wound up dead of heart failure. The sellers of the land buried him in a six foot grave. Tolstoy's story was entitled, "How Much Land Does A Man Need?". When the end comes that is all any of us need.

Jesus warns us in this story to check our greed or insatiable desires as it is sometimes translated. Watch out for it. We used to be aware of greed enough to at least want to hide it. It used to be something to watch out for. Anymore it seems like a good thing. Advertising cultivates it. Our sports stars model it. When one professional athlete signs a new mega bucks contract with another team he or she justifies it by saying he had to do what was best to care for his family. Most families get by just fine on millions less. When the college superstar leaves his studies early to jump to the pros, he or she justifies it by saying the money was too good to pass up.

Jesus seems to be saying that its good to pass up the money. He talked more about money than any other subject. Money must be one thing in life that can really mess us up. Like the Rich Fool shows. Money is not evil. Its the misuse of it that gets us into trouble. Problem is Jesus figured the misuse of it was way easier than the right use of it for us. The Rich Fool was already Rich. He had enough. He wanted more. He had to build bigger storehouses to put his more in. Why is it so hard to say, "That's enough!" "I don't need anything else." Jesus said, " Life does not consist in the surpluses we acquire." Yet, we live as if it does. He meant happiness or fulfillment does not come from stuff. Secular studies bear this out. They find that once our basic needs are met having more stuff does not make anyone any happier. In fact, more stuff brings more problems.

Jesus told this story after a brother came to him and asked him or told him to tell his brother to divide their father's inheritance with him. In Jesus day a father's estate went to the eldest brother unless the father had made other plans. Apparently in this case the older brother got it all and the younger brother wanted justice. He approached Jesus as a Rabbi who could give religious rulings. He sought Jesus out as if he was a spiritual guru and he probably wanted Jesus and the crowd on his side to put some pressure on his brother to share the goods. Money had already divided his family as it so often does. Jesus replied with a question," Who made me a judge or arbiter (divider) between you? Jesus did not come to divide people but to bring them together. Money brings division; Jesus brings reconciliation.

Keep your greed in check he told the brother and the crowd and then he told the story of the Rich Fool. It's a story not only about money but how money affects relationships. The Rich Fool is isolated. He is all alone. He has no one to talk with about the most important things in his life. It seems like the more money we have the more isolated we become. We buy bigger houses, surrounded by more land with higher fences and finally locate them in gated communities with security forces patrolling day and night.

Instead of letting our greed go unchecked, Jesus said, we should aim to be rich toward God. In another one of his sayings he said we should use our wealth to make friends for God. Money can be used for people's sake seems to be what Jesus is saying. Stuff is temporary but people are eternal. Jesus is not much concerned with stuff but he is with people. We need to be that way too. Money can easily divide us from others but it can be used to bring us together. Jesus parable teaches us to find ways to do that with our money and our stuff.

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