The gospel reading for last Sunday was Luke 12:13-21, the parable of the Rich Fool. Rich people don’t tend to do too well in Jesus’ parables, and for this guy, it’s the allure of always having that little bit more that does him in.
It’s a difficult parable for us, because we all face similar temptations in our lives. The extremes can be seen on shows like “Hoarders” or “Extreme Couponers.” Most of us aren’t that bad, but we do tend to fall into “salvation by stuff” thinking from time to time.
My sermon on the parable is below. What do you think? How might the story have ended if the Rich Fool had started by thinking about God and his neighbors instead of himself? Have you struggled with the question of how much is enough? If you have, you are most certainly not alone.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a scene in Downton Abbey, early on, where these two sides of the extended Crawley family are meeting each other. One is the Earl’s family, the aristocratic, well-bred, well-dressed denizens of the massive castle. The other are his new heir and mother, who are unfortunately very middle-class. And at this dinner, they are talking about the village hospital, and the middle-class woman Isobel asks who pays for it. And the dowager countess quips, “Oh good, let’s talk about money.”
Sarcasm at its finest. We’re all taught, we’re all trained that it’s impolite to discuss money in company. It’s rude to ask someone about money, and even more rude to tell someone else what they ought to be doing with their money. It makes us uncomfortable. Well, either social norms have changed, or Jesus was considered quite rude, because he talked about money more than anything else. Money, wealth—he talked about it over 700 times depending on how you count. More than heaven and hell combined. Certainly more than marriage. Why? Was he rude? Maybe a little. Was it because he was greedy? No, Jesus never asked for money for himself. I think Jesus understood better than most that money has something important to do with our relationship with God. That’s what he was most concerned about.
So be prepared to get uncomfortable—because we’re going to be doing what Jesus would do, and we’re going to be talking about money. But that’s alright, I could use company—you see, I’ve been uncomfortable since I read this parable of the Rich Fool on Monday.
Because when I read of the successful man who decided to store up his goods, who never got the chance to enjoy them, I identify a little too closely with the rich guy. After all, he’s not a cheat, or a thief, or even particularly greedy. He’s just worked hard and made a lot of money, like a lot of us dream about.
So where does he go wrong? It’s not his success, or his having barns full of crops in the first place. This isn’t one of the times Jesus tells someone to give everything they own away (that’s a different conversation). No, for this Rich Fool, it’s a question of how much is enough. He’s already filled his barns, presumably has more than enough to live on until the next harvest. But it’s not enough, there’s always the allure of having just that little bit more. So he tears down his barns to build bigger barns, because he can’t resist having more.
And I think we’re all vulnerable to the same trap. I think it’s partly human nature, but our culture is also constantly and consistently telling us that we don’t have enough. Television commercials, billboards, and the internet not only tell us that we’re insufficient, incomplete, and not quite right on our own, but they also promise that if we only buy the product their pushing—a new laptop, a new beauty regime, a better car—then we’ll be complete. Reality TV shows us the lives of multi-billionaires and invites us to compare ourselves to them. Our culture equates consumption with satisfaction, possessions with happiness, and material wealth with the good life.
It’s not true. There are studies that show there is a distinct drop-off in the return rate for more money. After around 75 or 80 thousand a year, increased wealth does not bring increased levels of happiness. We’ve even spent so long buying in to the promises of consumerism, that there is now a big craze of being minimalist. There’s a book, which of course you should buy, called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which offers its own solution to all of life’s woes: get rid of the stuff! So how much is enough?
It’s a question that each of us will answer differently, due to our differing circumstances, but it’s a question that we need to honestly consider. It’s a harder question to answer when you have more than you need, than when you are just scraping by. It’s the downfall of the Rich Fool. Listen again to when he considers the question: “He thought to himself, what shall I do, for I have no place to store my crops. Then he said, I will do this, I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Did you notice anything missing? Like the other person in the conversation? The Rich Fool never thinks of anyone but himself. He talks to his own soul, and never once considers God or his neighbors. I tend to assume he had no family, but even that is not a given. If he does, he never thinks of them. He tries to make these
choices of what he needs, of how much is enough, in a vacuum. The only focus is himself.
Who do we consider, who do we include, when we try and determine how much is enough? God? Our families? Our neighbors? Those we have never met? Because here’s the thing: God never intended for us to live in isolation. To have only ourselves to talk to, or only ourselves to consider. We were made, from the very beginning, to be in community, to be in relationships: with God and with each other.
And what a gift that is! As I close, I’d like us to consider a what-if? What if the Rich Fool had other people to consider and discuss with? What if he placed his trust and security in God instead of in things? He thought to himself, what shall I do, for I have no place to store my crops. Maybe for us, the question makes more sense: What shall I do, for I have more than I need?
What might his answer have been? What will our answers be? Do we hoard, and build more storage and bigger walls? Or do we invite more people to the feast? More things and more stuff will never complete us, will never be able to fill their elusive promise of contentment and transcendence. But that’s ok: because we are already more than enough. For God, we are always more than enough already. Let us share and celebrate in that great abundance. Amen.