The Parable of the Rich Fool

rembrandt's painting of the rich fool

Luke 12:16 – 21:

He spoke a parable to them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth abundantly. He reasoned within himself, saying, ‘What will I do, because I don’t have room to store my crops?’ He said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”‘

But God said to him, ‘You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared — whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Filling Our Barns

The message of this parable is a fairly obvious one. Jesus is encouraging us to replace our faith in possessions with faith in God. The next several verses elaborate on this point.

Luke 12:22 – 34:

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body than clothing. Consider the ravens: they don’t sow, they don’t reap, they have no warehouse or barn, and God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds!

Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height? If then you aren’t able to do even the least things, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith? Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious. For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things. Yet seek God’s kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.

Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give alms. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Jesus states that our hearts follow our treasures. These are the things we store in those barns like the rich man built in the parable. His heart was obviously set on material gain. But we can fill our barns with other things. They can be filled with goals, opinions, or ungodly characteristics we don’t want to let go. They can be filled with friends or family that keep us from God. They can be filled with pride.

The rich man’s actions demonstrated where his treasures were. These were his priority because those crops were where he expended his time and energy. What would an outside observer think your priorities are? If a random individual was supposed to follow you around for a week and conclude what’s most important to you based on what you spend the most time and energy on, what would they conclude? Would they see you laying up treasures in Heaven, or would they see you filling your barns with worldly things?

When Good Goals Turn Bad

In the verses we read after the parable, Jesus talks a bit about concern. Our concerns, worries, and anxieties can make us misplace our priorities. It’s interesting what he singles out. Both in the parable and in his subsequent teachings, Jesus focuses on food. The rich man wasn’t filling his barns with gold. He was filling them with food, which we need to survive.

The rich man filled his barns with something inherently good and necessary. Jesus also speaks to clothing, another good and necessary thing. But something good can turn us bad if it consumes our heart too much. Why do you think Satan’s first temptation after Jesus had been fasting had to do with food? He started with something that was inherently good, but encouraged Jesus to get it the wrong way.

Wanting to support our families is a good and necessary thing. Wanting to feed and clothe them is a good thing. Wanting safer neighborhoods and a more moral culture are good things. But when these things replace God in our lives and become the cares and anxieties that fill our barns, they cease to be good. They instead begin to drag us away from God because they become the goal we seek rather than something Heavenly and eternal. That’s why, time and again, Jesus and His apostles keep reminding us that all of these things are temporary. It’s so we don’t fill our barns with goals that will perish with this world.

Peace Rather Than Worry

Jesus ties worry directly to misplaced priorities. Jesus tells us to stop worrying four times over the course of these verses. He says to not be anxious; then He asks what good worry does; He asks why be anxious; finally, He repeats the refrain to not be anxious. After those four times, He concludes by saying to not be afraid. That’s because worry is the result of fear, and fear is the opposite of faith.

Instead, our priority should be to build our faith. I John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear. Our love of God is a result of faith, and, if we love Him, then we trust Him. This is the peace that passes understanding described in Philippians 4:7. Being able to look past this life and put things in perspective gives us peace. Remember, Paul suffered physical abuse and imprisonment for his faith while writing about peace. Jesus, who would be beaten and killed for His teachings, told us not to worry or fear. If they had peace, so can we.

Treasures in Heaven

The parable ends with the rich man dying. We may not always like to admit it, but we all have the same fate awaiting us. At some point, each of us will be finished with these worldly bodies, and we will enter the spiritual world. Everything that now seems so immediate will be in the past. Think about something that’s worrying you right now. Will it matter in eternity? Is it worth replacing your faith in God with that fear? Is that what you want God to see filling your barns?

So let’s tear down our barns of worry. Let’s get our priorities straight and realize that there is only one thing that really matters — showing Christ to others so that all may be saved. He is our treasure. Being like Him is our goal, and that will keep our eyes on the eternal. Then we can say we are laying up treasures in Heaven, so that we won’t need to feel foolish when God comes to take our souls home.

lesson by Robert Smelser