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.