The Parable of the Rich Fool

  Posted by Dr Peter Kalve on Friday, July 18 9:40 am

This short parable contains a significant and salutary warning to us all not to lose sight of God in a world of rampant materialism. For our purposes, the parable can be seen in two contexts: the context in which it was first applied, and the context in which we find ourselves today.

The first context is the Graeco-Roman world in which both the historical Jesus and the Gospel writers existed. It was a world in which the major power of the age (Rome) dominated the region. Palestine was subject to Roman rule, and subject too to the trade and economic practices which had brought great wealth to a very few, and deep poverty and suffering to a great many. Given the Roman control of the economic and fiscal life of the region, it became the goal of some individuals who aspired to wealth, to work within that political and economic system, to achieve this. But, as is so often the case, this form of materialism could so easily become a self-destructive process, in which the rights and dignity of the poor was trampled upon, and the pursuit of gain became the only goal.

These individuals propped up the totalitarian Roman political system by failing to recognise the basic human dignity of their fellow human beings, and recognising instead only the need for more and more individualist material gain. And in doing this, God became forgotten. Love of God became replaced by love of individual gain and materialism.

Now this materialism could take many forms. In the parable, the easiest form to understand is employed - a wealthy man stores up more wealth, hoarding from his successful produce a great store of goods and materials with which he sought to enrich himself. But he loses sight of the point of life in this pursuit of gain. He thinks only of himself. He does not of share his good fortune with the poor and the downtrodden. Above all, he refuses to think of the only individual relationship that matters ultimately. He forgets about God. So when he faces a sudden, unprepared death (which is implied by verse 20), the emptiness of his relationship with God is revealed in all its bleakness.

And the context for today? It is interesting that this parable seems to have attracted the fewest comments so far. Is this because we are uncomfortable to condemn materialism as much as we were prepared (rightly) to condemn the Communism of the previous decades? I think so. I think the Western world especially is guilty of an individualist materialism which sees the pursuit of individual gain and wealth as the only "worthwhile" thing to do, and which deliberately forgets God.

Today's materialism takes many forms - financial, sexual, political, and emotional, to name a few. What this parable teaches us is that we should think about sharing our wealth and striving for a common good, and, above all, to remember God, who is the source of all goodness, and who will call us to account at a time not of our own choosing. Have we lived in a way that puts God first, or have we ignored that relationship, choosing our own individual materialism instead?

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