July/August 2012 - Vol. 61

The Rich Fool 
“You Can’t Take It with You”
By Jeanne Kun
The parable... shows the pointlessness of greed. Possessions, even an abundance of possessions, cannot give us security; they can only give us an illusion of security. And that illusion can distract us from the true source of our security, God’s care for us. The folly of the rich farmer lay not in his having full barns, but in his believing that his full barns were all he needed.
– George Martin, God’s Word Today
The request that prompted Jesus to tell this parable might seem to be a rather innocent one. Someone in the crowd just wanted to receive his fair share of his family’s possessions. But to Jesus, the man’s concern with money betrayed the fact that he had missed the point he had focused his attention on the things of this world rather than storing up treasures in the kingdom of God.

So Jesus distanced himself from this man’s personal concerns and proceeded to tell a story about a man with so much earthly wealth that he thought his future was secured. The rich landowner had “ample goods for many years,” so why not “relax, eat, drink, [and] be merry”? It’s easy to imagine this man at his leisure, enjoying the fruits of his labors.

So why is this man a fool? Don’t we all take measures to provide for our future security? The problem with the man in the parable is that he didn’t have his priorities straight. The wealthy man put all his trust in his possessions instead of putting his trust in God. He sought happiness and security by stockpiling his wealth, not even thinking of sharing it with others. We know from his monologue that he was self-centered the personal pronoun “I” appears six times and the possessive pronoun “my” five times so the possibility of sharing his abundance with others apparently never even crossed his mind. He didn’t thank God for his prosperity, nor did he seek advice from anyone about how to put his surplus to good use. His only thought was to build a bigger barn in which to store his wealth for his own future. He was so preoccupied with his possessions that he idolized them, letting them usurp God’s rightful place in his life.

Suddenly, when the man was confronted with his imminent death, the senselessness of his actions was made plain to him. God himself says: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).

The wealthy landowner’s actions and his perspective on life were based on a set of falsehoods which is why he was called a fool. How easy it is to deceive ourselves just as this rich fool did. We’re susceptible to the same all-too-human tendencies that he was, and our vision can be just as short sighted and distorted. We try to control our own destiny, when it is God who has ultimate control. Perhaps we base our security in riches and things we can see, forgetting that we can only be secure in God. Or, focused on our own well-being and interests, we neglect the needs of our neighbor. We forget that all we have comes from God it’s not really ours. We mistakenly live for the present, giving no thought to securing our eternal future.

The parable of the rich fool is another of Jesus’ pointed and disquieting reminders that we are not to invest ourselves in the perishable riches of earth, but rather in the enduring riches of heaven, that will gain us eternal interest (Luke 12:21, 33). When we perceive the truth about God and the fullness of life that he offers us, we’ll be eager to be “rich toward God” (12:21). “For where [our] treasure is, there [our] heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34).

In the Spotlight

Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use. (2445)

The tenth commandment [“You shall not covet... anything that is your neighbor’s”] forbids greed and the desire to amass earthly goods without limit. It forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power. (2536)

The Lord grieves over the rich, because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods. (2547)

Desire for true happiness frees man from his immoderate attachment to the goods of this world so that he can find his fulfillment in the vision and beatitude of God. (2548)

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

In the Spotlight

Eye of Evil, Eye of Envy

“Are you envious because I am generous?” the landowner asked the grumblers. The literal translation of the original Greek of Matthew’s gospel would be, “Is your eye evil because I am good?”

This “evil eye” is the eye of envyn in Hebrew by the Jewish sage Ben Sira around 200 B.C., was later translated into Greek by the author’s grandson. A passage from this Greek translation reads, “The eye of the greedy person is not satisfied with his share..... An evil eye is envious over bread, and it is lacking on his table” (Sirach 14:9-10). A similar expression equating the eye with greed, avarice, and envy was used again by Ben Sira in Sirach 31:13. Jesus refers to the state of the “eye” as healthy or unhealthy, calling it the lamp that brings light or darkness to the rest of the body (Matthew 6:22-23). 

In the Spotlight

Gifts of Love

In Calcutta, we didn’t have sugar; and a little Hindu child, four years old, he heard Mother Teresa has no sugar. And he went home and he told his parents: “I will not eat sugar for three days. I will give my sugar to Mother Teresa.” After three days, the parents brought the child to our house. In his hand he had a little bottle of sugar.... the sugar of a little child. He could scarcely pronounce my name, but he knew he loved a great love because he loved until it hurt. It hurt him to give up sugar for three days. But that little child taught me that to be able to love a great love, it is not how much we give but how much loving is put in the giving.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Respect Life
In the Words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Sometime back two young people came to our house and they gave me lots, lots of money. And I said, “Where, where did you get so much money?” And they said, “Two days ago we got married, and before marriage we decided we will buy no wedding clothes, we will have no wedding feast. We will give you the money.” For a Hindu family that’s a big, big, big sacrifice because wedding day is one of the biggest days in their life. And again I offered, “Why, why did you do that?” And they said, “We love each other so much that we wanted to share the joy of loving with the people you serve, and we experience the joy of loving.”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Love:
A Fruit Always in Season

Excerpted from Treasures Uncovered: The Parables of Jesus, by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, © 2005).  Used with permission. This book can be ordered online.

Jeanne Kun is President of Bethany Association and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. 

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And 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.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then 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. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But 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?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

In the Spotlight
The Insatiable Desire for More

Pleonexia is the Greek word for “greediness” or “covetousness.” It carries overtones of an insatiable desire for more and more. The verb form is commonly used to describe the actions of those who try to take advantage of others or strive ambitiously for gain, and the adjective is descriptive of one who never has enough.

Jesus named pleonexia, or avarice, one of the evils that come from within the heart and defile a person (Mark 7:21-23). St. Paul included it among the characteristics of the ungodly and wicked (Romans 1:29) and of those who are alienated from God by their hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:19).

As Christians who have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised up with him, we are to “put to death” in ourselves “whatever is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed pleonexia (which is idolatry)” (Colossians 3:5).


1. Why do you think Jesus refused to judge the dispute between two brothers about their inheritance? What does the parable indicate about how God judges people like these brothers?

2. Jesus said, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). According to his parable, in what should our life consist?

3. The Old Testament describes a fool as one who lives as though God does not exist (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). In what ways did the rich man forget about God or act like he did not exist?

4. In concrete terms, what do you think it means to “store up treasures” for ourselves (Luke 12:21)? To be “rich toward God”?

5. According to Jesus’ words in Luke 12:22-34, which immediately follow this parable, we should trust in our heavenly Father to meet our material needs. How does his teaching build on the message of the parable?


1. What forms of greed do you recognize in your life? Desire to acquire things for their own sake? Selfish attachment to your possessions? Hoarding? How can you guard against such attitudes and practices?

2. If you find yourself at times basing your security on material goods, income, or achievements, why do you think this is the case? What would help you trust less in worldly things and more in God?

3. In what ways does a preoccupation with satisfying our material needs keep us from serving God and his people? What might help you increase your focus on the values of God’s kingdom and on eternal life?

4. Make a list of the qualities you think are necessary to be a good and prudent steward of God’s gifts. Which of those qualities would you like to grow in?

5. What have you learned about God and what is important to him from this parable? About yourself and what is important to you?


1. Still yourself and quietly meditate a while on the inevitability of your death. In this light, are there any ways that you should change how you relate to status, possessions, and material goods?

2. Reflect on the following passages to deepen your insight into the parable you have just studied:

[Job] said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)

 All day long the wicked covet,
  but the righteous give and do not hold back. (Proverbs 21:26)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). (Colossians 3:2-5)

There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)


Simplify your life! Are you “storing up” things unnecessarily? Take some time this week to begin to sort through your clothing, household goods, and other possessions. Donate what you don’t need or aren’t making use of to a charitable organization so that others will be able to benefit from these items.

If this is a big step for you to take, begin slowly and ask God to guide you.

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