So I have a confession to make: I like stuff. I know that’s not particularly shocking; we all like stuff. If given the choice between more stuff and less stuff, I’d likely choose more stuff.
Thankfully, stuff itself is not bad. Money, land, goods, whatever stuff you’ve got, is a blessing to you, right up until the time it’s not.
And so the Parable of the Rich Fool, perhaps the funniest of Jesus’ parables.
“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. Notice that the subject of the sentence is the land. This reflects the Jewish insight that, whatever may be the human contribution in the process of farming, it is the land, the earth, that is the source of food. Thus an abundant crop, like the land itself, is a gift of God.”
So far, so good. But then the fool begins to head down an interesting path. He looks out and sees not just an abundance of crops but his own future, a future of lazy afternoons and lemonade, of not having to work so hard or pray so incessantly that his land will produce. He doesn’t even have enough room to store his abundance, so what’s a guy to do?
He will tear down his barns and build bigger ones! Well, okay, again, so far, so good. The grain has to go somewhere; he can’t just leave it out to be scattered, stolen, or ruined. But then the fool begins to lose touch with the first reality, that all he has is a gift from God. What will be stored in those big new barns?
…there I will store all my grain and my goods. There’s “no mention of the larger community here; it is a question of “my grain and my goods.” The fact that this man is pursuing an interior monologue in a vacuum of selfishness” is bad, bad enough that Jesus starts making fun of the guy.
‘And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’
He’s lost it! The Rich Fool becomes so caught up in himself that he starts talking to himself as if he’s talking to another person, or really, as if he’s talking to God.
But then, as the parable goes, God, the actual God, steps in, calls the man a fool, and tells him that no matter what goods you have, you can’t take it with you.
In 1627, Rembrandt finished up a painting called the Parable of the Rich Fool. It’s a masterwork of light, color, and texture, as you would expect, but it’s otherwise a rather simple painting, at least from Rembrandt. An older man is picture holding a candle, dressed in fine clothing; he is surrounded by ledgers and has a large money purse at his left shoulder, some loose coins floating around on his desk. What’s absent from the painting is anyone else. The Rich Fool has everything except any relationship to anyone else.
The man is a fool not because he is rich, but because of his desire to be amongst the indolent rich. He didn’t see what he had in front of him, not just that years massive crop but also the land that produced it and could produce more, he didn’t see all that as a means of connecting with others, of helping those around him who were in need, as a means of giving glory to the God who gave him all that he had. Like Rembrandt saw it, he used his riches to build a barrier rather than a bridge.
And still, I like stuff. I’d rather have more stuff than less stuff. Because I live here and in the manner that I do, I have way more stuff than most people in the world. I can’t help but think that this parable has something to say to me.
*All quotes come from Dennis J. Hamm, SJ: http://liturgy.slu.edu/18OrdC080419/theword_hamm.html