The so-called parable of the rich fool arises when a man out of the crowd addresses Jesus as teacher. He
presents himself as one of two brothers, presumably the younger one who because of his lesser
status in the family wants an outsider to direct him so that he might get his fair share of the family
There are a number of interesting laws in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible that deal with inheritance (Numbers 27:1-11; 36:7-9; Deuteronomy 21:16-17), but none of them cover the exact situation the
young man is facing. So it should come as no surprise that such a young man would come with a fully legitimate question to a person who might have some authority.
Since the situation is done in the midst of crowds I have wondered if the young man might have been setting up Jesus with a tough question to get him in trouble. Nothing would indicate that explicitly except the lack of laws to deal precisely with his case.
To everyone’s surprise Jesus refuses to answer the question. We are tipped off that Jesus is going to turn the world's values upside down. While the NRSV translation uses the term “Friend” to translate the way the young man is addressed it is merely a fairly ordinary word for man. If anything it is a slightly negative way to refer to someone indicating an aloofness as one commentator has said. If it is understood that way we
might already have a clue to the connection between the young man and the “fool” mentioned latter in the parable (Luke 13:20).
Jesus declines to answer the question. This surprise leads to the subject of greed surely the reason for Luke to have selected this story along with the urgency of addressing the issue of security and being prepared properly.
Certainly the fool in the parable, while on the surface anticipating the need for more storage, is
depicted as one who is storing possessions for himself without any regard for being “rich toward
God.” Being rich is not the problematic issue. It is the purpose of the richness that is brought into question.
Richness toward God means that one shares treasures for others who have much greater need.
The rich man who has an abundance of possessions and anticipates the future would seem to have fastened on a real value through his preparation. His need to tear down old barns and build
bigger barns for more possessions would seem on the surface to be a good idea. However, his mistake is at least twofold. First, the urgency is that tonight, right now, his life is being demanded. Forget the need for bigger storage units. Second, you cannot take “it,” your possessions, with you. So he is asked, “The things you have prepared, whose will they be,” implying, when you are gone.”
The young man’s question of inheritance enables the turn to the parable of the fool and the issue of
greed mixed with the proper anxiety about real security.
Possessions are an enormous issue in our consumer culture. How many storage rooms do we rent before we begin to realize that the treasures we need are those that are rich toward God?