Wed, July 27, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

18th Sunday

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

Bible passages


Luke 12,13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions." Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!" But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God."

Biblical Homilies


Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me." He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?" (cf. verse 13-14)

A man comes to Jesus and demands that he take on the role of heir-divider between him and his brother. It was indeed the custom here and there at that time to ask a respected scribe to arbitrate legal disputes between two parties. In the present case, the man was probably deprived of his inheritance by his brother.

Jesus, however, refuses to interfere in matters for which there is a judicial authority. The form of address that Jesus uses, "Man," and then the question, "Who made me a judge or arbitrator among you?" are therefore meant to bring the stranger to his senses. Jesus rejects what is not his due. That is not his business. In doing so, he acknowledges the jurisdiction of those who are responsible for it in Israel.

The word and example of Jesus are valid for all times. Nothing foreign is to be mixed with the spiritual office. Jesus says this very clearly here. Jesus did not come into the world to help this man with his inheritance, but he came to heal him from his main evil.

Then he said to the crowd, "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions." (cf. verse 15)

What is the man's chief evil in Jesus' eyes then comes up very quickly when Jesus says, "Take heed, beware of every kind of covetousness." But actually, Jesus says this to all men because almost all men suffer from this very basic evil, covetousness, and greed. In 1 Tim 6:10, Paul writes, "Covetousness has already caused many to perish." "For the root of all evils is covetousness. Not a few who have fallen into it have strayed from the faith and caused themselves many torments." This is also about spiritual life, about eternal life. Precisely with the imperative Jesus uses here - "Take heed, beware" - Jesus also calls us to be vigilant against this basic evil that is in some form in all of us. Life and happiness, Jesus says, come not from possessions but from the God Jesus proclaims. And to proclaim him, that is what he came to do.

Then he told them a parable. "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!" (cf. verse 16-19)

This parable that Jesus tells here is very clear and actually understandable in itself. It is simply the description of the folly of the rich man who hopes to have a carefree life for many years from his wealth. But to this Jesus says very clearly: The meaning of life does not consist in a person living in abundance because of his great wealth. And therefore it is folly what this rich man does or thinks. He actually does nothing evil and yet he is a fool before God. He speaks only to himself and of himself, constantly "I" and "my": alone six times "I will" and "I will"; then "my harvest", "my barns", "my grain", "my provisions".... This rich man pretends as if all this belongs to him all alone and he can dispose of everything freely, even of his soul! But he will find out that this is not so!

But what about ourselves? How often do we use this "I"? How often do we look only at ourselves? But the meaning of life, says Jesus, does not consist of great fortune and abundance.

But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God." (cf. verse 20-21)

There is a staggering contrast between the self-talk of the foolish rich man and the judgment of God. The words of God show in all sharpness the delusion in the mind of this rich man: "You fool! This very night your life will be reclaimed from you" and you have not even reaped your harvest! What then have you lived for? What has been the meaning of your life? Who will then own everything you have accumulated?

Many things should open up for us, too. Don't we often feel that we are attached to things and can't let go? Some people cannot let go of certain things, possessions, or people until they are very old. That's why they almost can't die. That's why somehow they almost haven't lived. Because that is not life, but only fear of losing. But life is not fear of losing, but the joy of gaining. We are gaining eternal life. We go towards a goal. That is the meaning of life!

While the rich man is still living in the delusion of future pleasures, the judgment of God is already pronounced on him. He does not even have as many hours ahead of him as he dreamed of for years. And how is it with us? Let's think about the worries we have for years to come. At the same time, we don't even know what belongs to us in this life. Why don't we live the moment when God gives us everything we might need at this moment?

God says to the rich man, "Your soul they will claim from you." - that is an expression of the reluctant suffering of death, because the rich man does not want to die, but to enjoy. But this reluctant suffering of death is the result of greed. One cannot let go. Thus, dying is not a transition to new life, but reluctant suffering of death. The rich man must give up his soul, which he wants to keep as his own, as he expresses it again and again, whether he wants to or not. With the exclamation "You fool" God exposes the delusion of this man who believes he can secure his life with his fortune.

Jesus then asks the all-important question, "To whom then will all this belong...?" which unravels everything: What did this man expect and from what? In any case, God did not play a role. Jesus warns against the folly that thinks that life depends on the number of accumulated goods. This will trouble some of us, perhaps everyone. Who of us does not hang on to something somewhere that ultimately makes it difficult for him to die and is the cause of his anxiety. That which we hold on to, that which we don't want to give away, whether it's things or people or reputation or whatever - this covetousness is the source of our worries, anxieties, and troubles. When we examine ourselves in this regard, we realize what St. Paul means when he says, "Covetousness has already caused many to perish." Then we know what Jesus wants to say to us: do not make your life difficult by hanging on to things. After all, they are only given to you for service so that you can live this life, but they are not the source of your happiness and joy. The real source of joy is God Himself, the goal towards which we are heading, eternal life.

So, while the first part of the parable portrays the way greed imagines and misrepresents the future, the second part exposes the fatal folly of this greed. And that is what it really is - folly! Let us examine ourselves and at the same time look at our life, at our feelings. Let us let Jesus uncover us and lead us to freedom and true joy. ∎