Why did God call the Rich Man a Fool? | Parable Exegesis

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance

with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over

you?” 15 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.” 16 Then he told them a

parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself,

‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for

many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 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?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are

not rich toward God.”

Author: Luke (Exclusive) (with similar scenarios found in Sirach 11:18-19, Ecclesiastes 2:1-11,

and Job 31:24-28) Date: between CE 80-90

Audience: Gentile-Christians (god-fearers) Narrative Context: Jesus is interrupted from

talking about matters of hypocrisy and salvation to be asked to arbitrate in a family dispute

over an inheritance. Following this parable, Jesus instructs the disciples to sell their

possessions and give alms and then provides a few warnings on eschatology -- specifically,

how judgement will come when you least expect it.

Key terms: Note the frequent use of the fool’s use of “I” and “my” to demonstrate

his egotistic concerns. Historical Context: Rabbis were often asked

to arbitrate in family disputes. Jewish custom states the older son in a family of 2 received

⅔ of the father’s possessions. It is likely that the man who questions Jesus is the younger

brother who has yet to receive any of the father’s inheritance from his older brother.

The stereotype of the rich man as greedy reflects the ancient notion of limited good: the pie

is finite, is already fully distributed, and cannot be expanded. Therefore if anyone’s

share got larger, someone else’s automatically got smaller.

An honorable man would thus be interested only in what was rightfully his. He would

not want “more,” Anyone with a surplus would normally feel shame unless he gave liberally

to the community. By keeping everything to himself and refusing to act as a generous

person, the rich man in the parable reveals himself as a dishonorable fool.

Message: Salvation is not based on an accumulation of riches. Later in this chapter Jesus reminds

his disciples“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The parable

illustrates the fate of a rich man who would have been the envy of most people, but in

the midst of his good fortune lost sight of what is really important, which we learn by

the chapter’s end-- loving God and loving neighbor.

All Parables have a Shock Value and this one would’ve been that Luke chapter 12 begins

with finger pointing at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and their view of salvation, but

by the end of the chapter the audience is forced to look inside themselves to evaluate

whether they place matters of greed over matters of the heart. It was commonly believed per

the Jewish purity system that earthly riches reflect heavenly rewards. The rich man, it

was assumed among his contemporaries, would have had “salvation in the bag.” Yet we

learn by the parable’s end that it’s not the accumulation of wealth that matters in

God’s eyes, but how you use it.