Luke 12:13-21 – The Parable of the Rich Fool

The angel of death surprises a rich man by Jim Janknegt

A man in a crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to give me my share of what our father left us when he died.”

Jesus answered, “Who gave me the right to settle arguments between you and your brother?”

Then he said to the crowd, “Don’t be greedy! Owning a lot of things won’t make your life safe.”

So, Jesus told them this story:

A rich man’s farm produced a big crop, and he said to himself, “What can I do? I don’t have a place large enough to store everything.”

Later, he said, “Now I know what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, where I can store all my grain and other goods. Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have stored up enough good things to last for years to come. Live it up! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.’ ”

But God said to him, “You fool! Tonight, you will die. Then who will get what you have stored up?”

“This is what happens to people who store up everything for themselves but are poor in the sight of God.” (Contemporary English Version)

Let’s be honest before God because there’s no way we are going to fool him. The truth is, we all worry. 

And the more stuff we accumulate, the more worried we get. And the more worried we get, the stingier we become – to the point where we encase ourselves around more stuff, which requires bigger places to store all our stuff.

Here’s a bit of a reality check: We are not self-sufficient independent automatons who are meant to function by themselves without ever needing help.

The Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627

If we have some success in this independence venture, we then expect that others ought to be able to do it, too. Such thinking leads to a lack of generosity, believing that others just need to work harder or smarter or better. They’re lazy, we may reason. So, I’ve got no responsibility to share any of my largess with slackers.

We seek after whatever it is we desire. If we seek the kingdom of God, we will pursue the Lord Jesus and aim our love toward knowing him. But if we seek materialism, wealth, and the accumulation of stuff, we will never have enough because worry and fear shall always overwhelm the voice of God. 

I make it sound easy, as if the choice were so clear. On one level it is, but, like most things, it’s complicated because we are all a weird hybrid of competing loves and desires.

So, let’s make a few distinctions that might help us clarify our kingdom calling. Materialism is not the same thing as hard work. 


  • Is a shield we lug around to protect us from failure and poverty
  • Puts us on a performance treadmill, and is tied to our self-worth
  • Is a never-ending quest for security and protection
  • Seeks to avoid the criticism of others by seeking their approval with stuff
  • Believes that money will take away feelings of hurt, pain, and discomfort

Whereas hard work:

  • Is about healthy achievement and a patient growth of assets
  • Seeks to improve and is satisfied with a job well done
  • Takes away fear and worry 
  • Brings gratitude and joy

Any worldly fool can make money; but the wise and righteous person is able to manage resources in a way that glorifies God, builds up the church, and blesses the world. 

And it all begins with knowing the difference between depending on God versus depending on self and stuff.

The rich farmer in Christ’s story is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he lives only for himself, and because he believes he can secure his life with his abundant possessions.

In the parable, the rich guy only talks to himself – not to anyone else. The man doesn’t express any gratitude to God. There is neither any thanking the workers who have helped him plant and harvest this bumper crop, nor any sharing his wealth through giving them a bonus.

The farmer has more than he could ever hope to use, yet he seems to have no thought of sharing it. And there is clearly no thought of what God might require of him. The rich man is outright blind to the fact that his life is not his own to secure, that his life belongs to God, and that God can demand it back at any time.

The Rich Fool by Bertram Poole

No amount of wealth can give any of us what we need most in life: healthy relationships, the love and enjoyment of friends and family, or eternal life. Nobody can buy their way into heaven or eternal bliss. What’s more, money cannot provide protection from disease and disaster.

Here’s another reality check: The rich and the poor all die, just the same. And the one who is wealthy cannot take a bit of it with him.

At issue here, for Jesus, is neither saving for retirement or for future needs, nor enjoying the good things in life. In fact, that’s wisdom.

The issue, for Jesus, is about what’s most important to God. It’s about priorities. God cares deeply about how we invest our lives and use the gifts given us. The Lord is vested in us, so he cares about how we love God and neighbor. God wants us to orient our lives toward the divine mission to bless and redeem the world.

In other words, God cares about whether we care, or not, about others.

As a hospital chaplain, I’ve seen my share of death. And I have never once heard anyone say, “Gosh, chaplain, I sure wish I hadn’t given so much money and stuff away. I wish I had kept more for myself.” But I’ve sure heard plenty of the opposite.

A spiritual reality check: We, and our resources, all belong to God.

We are merely stewards of everything we own. God gave it to us. God can take it away. Including our life.

The good news is that, since we, and everything we have, belongs to God, our future is secure in Christ.

Merciful God, thank you for giving me everything I need for life and godliness in this present world. Forgive me for ever doubting your goodness and ability to provide for me. Let my life bless the name of Jesus, and may I steward all that you have given me with care and compassion. Amen.

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