“Divine Asset Management”
July 31, 2022
Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should 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.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So, it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ ***
“Relax! Eat, drink, be merry!” In what has come to be known as the “Parable of the Rich Fool” Jesus tells a colorful story about a farmer who has a conversation with his soul after he finishes a barn expansion project following a very successful harvest.
The farmers I have known work hard and often have little time for merriment. On a farm there is always work to do. So, the farmer we meet today is considering kicking back a bit because he has had a year of abundant crops.
If you have heard preachers go at this story, it is likely questions have been raised about the farmer’s approach to his notable success. Some consider him greedy. Others wonder if there have been some shady dealings to arrive at such success. Jesus does not mention either. All he says is, “the land of a certain rich man produced abundantly.”
The guy had a good year. All people should be so fortunate. The question which seems to waft around this story is this: was he greedy for more? The fact that he is ready to kick back and relax after new barns are built says that he was not the sort of guy who is never satisfied. From the details that Jesus gives, the man’s problem is not that he practiced dishonest business, or that he had a voracious appetite to accumulate more for himself. So, what is the issue that prompts Jesus to tell this parable?
Let me venture a couple of responses. First off, this guy needs to get off the farm and into town a little more often. Did you notice he is talking to himself? “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” He is talking only about himself, too. That is not so unusual for when it comes to money or our abundance of possessions, we are not inclined to talk about it with others, either.
In the parable, we meet no one else. Every line he speaks is to himself, and everything he says refers to himself: “my soul, my goods, my barns.”
However, as Jesus comes to the end of the story, God enters the picture and asks the farmer: “The things you’ve prepared, whose will they be?” It is a question without an answer in the parable. The farmer does not have anyone to whom to leave his goods. No heirs. Besides being all alone and talking to himself, our farmer has at least one other problem: he is misguided about what he manages and what he does not manage. He does not understand that God owns everything. His barns and the harvest that fills them are actually on loan from God — the farmer is simply the steward, the manager.
This farmer was good at resource management. He knew his business. He was successful running it. All that is good. But something begins to nag in his mind. He begins to imagine himself managing the future. He says, “I will say to myself, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” A reassured soul is a good thing, but the farmer is making promises he cannot keep. It is not his job to assure his soul about the shape of the future. There are some things that even a successful businessperson with a large estate, big crops and big barns does not control.
This successful businessperson does not seem to know that he has stepped beyond his sphere of influence. He is rich, he is prudent, he is a good manager. And according to God he is also a fool. His folly is not that he has built bigger barns to store his abundant crops.
Notice God does not pass judgment on the farmer’s moral character; instead, God calls him a fool. Why? The man is a fool because he believes that his ample goods will safeguard his future. God says he is a fool because, whether he has ample goods or no goods at all, he will be dead tomorrow. He seems to have considered every future scenario except that one — the one that is guaranteed for all of us, and in his case his breathtakingly nearby..
His future is ours; you know. None of us is going to make it out of this world alive. It is an eventuality many of us are very skilled at denying.
I know preachers do not often raise this truth. But every Ash Wednesday we get honest with each other about this: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The rest of the year we take our vitamins, keep our clinic appointments, exercise, eat our oatmeal and sweep that dust language as far as possible away from us.
Jesus is not railing about success in business or achieving for ourselves hefty estates. But using the farmer and his excess crops, he wants to remind us of something particularly important.
Remember how this whole story began — before Jesus told us about this farmer? It is ironic that this story was inspired by a request for help getting an inheritance. “Jesus, tell my brother to share the family inheritance with me,” someone asks. But Jesus will not step into that debate. He is headed somewhere else as he responds to the man who asked for his help. Instead of issuing a ruling on the inheritance question, Jesus cautions the man and everyone else within earshot about the difference between storing up treasure for oneself and being rich toward God.
You see, Jesus is headed somewhere — namely, to Jerusalem where, as he has already told his disciples, he will be killed. The farmer is not the only one breathtakingly close to death. Jesus is interested in inheritance questions, — but not the inheritance of the brother in the crowd, or even the inheritance of the farmer who dies with no heirs at all. Instead, Jesus speaks of the inheritance that belongs to the children of God. Just a few verses after this story of the barns, Jesus says, “Have no fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” You are an heir! And it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. That is all the inheritance you need.”
So, back to our farmer friend. What if our hard-working, momentarily-relaxed, about-to-die farmer had known about God’s good pleasure to give him the kingdom? How might his life have been different before his death?
To answer that question, it may help to go back to the farmer’s first problem. Remember, he thinks only of himself. Yet, Jesus announces the gift of the kingdom to the flock — to all , and not just a solo sheep — not just one. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give y’all the kingdom.” In that little word “you” with its plural form, a different picture of all this abundance in the barns comes into focus.
In this picture — the farmer with the barns is there, but there are also other characters we have not seen before; there are field workers, builders of the barns, the merchants who take the grain, process it, deliver it to merchants for the people who need to eat! In this picture there is even the One who sends rain and makes the sun to shine and the crops to grow. It is that One’s good pleasure to give you and all those other people in the picture what we need from day to day.
The man with the barns was never as isolated as his self-talk led us to believe. The difference now is that he can look up from all that muttering over full barns and his asset-flush ledger long enough to realize it. And in doing so, he no longer has to have conversation about money and wealth with himself. In seeing others and realizing his abundance is on loan to him from God, this farmer can do wonderful things for others, please God and find that merriment.
The other difference for the farmer comes in what he expects his barns and his grain to be able to do for him. Dear Mr. Farmer: Your soul is secure in life and in death. It is God’s good pleasure to secure your soul. When that matter is settled, no longer is all the grain in the barns the means by which one foolish farmer gives himself a false sense of security. When the farmer comprehends that his soul is secure, the grain can be what it was meant to be: the simple miraculous means by which the Creator God cares for creatures who need to eat.
So, dear readers, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ: Your soul is secure in life and in death. It is God’s good pleasure to secure your soul. Relax! Eat, drink, be merry. Give thanks! Work, rest, share. And share some more. All of this — your whole life and your death besides — is made holy, safe, and secure by the One who said, “This is my body, my blood, my life, my death. Given — for you.”
As for that grain in your barns, that work you are good at, those accounts you manage, the retirement funds, the assets and estate you steward — they are worthless for the purpose of soul-securing. Worthless. But they were never intended to secure a future.
In the ways of God, all that we manage will not go to waste. Our skills and abilities, our possessions, our money — they are just what God needs to answer our neighbor’s prayer for daily bread. So, share now in life. And be sure to share in death, too.
How is that for asset management?