It was common practice in Jesus’ day, and still today in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, to bring legal issues to a rabbi. However, Jesus made it clear to the person who asked him to mediate an inheritance issue that he would not be a judge or arbiter. What he did, though, was to spin a parable about a rich farmer who had a super bountiful harvest. He prefaced the parable with a caution. “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
The farmer built new barns to store the excess grain that his harvest yielded. It was such a great harvest that it would set him up for life. The rich farmer had lived a great life, and due to this particular harvest, he could continue the lifestyle he was enjoying until his death. From now on, he could strut down Easy Street. He was very pleased with himself! But there was something he didn’t know. This would be his last day on earth. I’m sure that everyone in the audience let out a collective sigh when they heard this. Jesus then ended the parable with a with a moral. “Thus, will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
This particular parable often falls on deaf ears because it seems to go against our instincts. Nobody wants to be poor. Nobody wants to be financially insecure. Today, the media puts us all on alert by reminding us every hour of the day that the money we have is worth less as inflation rises. If we’re lucky enough to have savings, we’re panicking because the stock market is so volatile. Banks are paying almost no interest on deposits.
Poor families and the elderly are deeply anxious as they hear talk of ending Social Security and cutting food stamp programs and welfare.
Though this parable is aimed at the rich, everyone, rich and poor alike, would do well to contemplate the bottom line of Jesus’ message. We’re all called to be “rich in what matters to God.”
You may have noticed that the man in the parable is thinking only of himself. He had a great harvest and was ready to set up a comfortable life for himself. He wasn’t doing anything that was bad in itself. He was just self-centered. He was like the rich man in the parable of the man who feasted every day while Lazarus, a poor, sick beggar, sat outside longing for the food that dropped from the table. His sin wasn’t that he feasted every day. His sin was that he never saw the poor man starving at his doorstep.
Jesus is calling to all of us, rich and poor alike, to be conscious of one another. We’ve trained ourselves not to see the person lying in the street. We’re annoyed and put off by a relative or friend who asks us for financial help. We don’t want to get involved. We want to be comfortable, and we definitely don’t want to get involved in other people’s problems.
Today’s parable is reminding us that life is a communal experience. “Being rich in what matters to God” means being aware of those around us. It means being rich in compassion. It means that our wealth isn’t stored in barns or banks; it’s stored in the heart.