Is Wealth Bad?
The text this week is Luke 12: 13-21. This is the parable of the rich fool. It sees a man store up for himself much surplus. So much so that he needs to build another barn. This induces him to feel pretty good about himself and then it all comes crashing down on him, as God reminds him that his life is demanded of him that very night.
The question arises, is this a criticism of accumulation generally or is it something more specific. I would argue the latter. Jesus starts the parable with being on guard against all kinds of greed (Verse 15). Accumulating a surplus is not the same thing as greed. Indeed, a surplus, that is something saved, is the basis of all material civilization. Additionally, providing for the future is an act of faith in tomorrow. It is also often an act of generosity to accumulate and prepare for a day that you know you will not see. It is the financial equivalent of planting a tree, which is a thing you clearly do for the next generation.
That said, what I think Jesus is warning against is greed. Greed, as defined by the Biblical commentator John Ritenbaugh is “ruthless self–seeking and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one’s own benefit.”. In fact, the text points to this as the rich man is talking to himself, about himself. Verse 19 shows this clearly. That is the sin and foolishness here; thinking that the wealth and accumulation is all about you.
A Lesson on Stewardship
There is nothing here that states that we should not enjoy the fruits of your labor or the things that God had provided in His kingdom. What is being criticized as foolish is the idea that we do what we do for ourselves. This is a clear lesson about the fundamentals of stewardship. We are stewards of ourselves and all that we have been given in this creation. Stewards are managers not owners. God is the owner. One day He will come back to claim what is His. That for us individually is the day of our death. The rich man was a fool because he forgot this. He was only thinking of himself, both in terms of how he accumulated his wealth and in terms of what he thought he was supposed to do with it.
He was not a forward-thinking man, who was planning for the sustainable creation of wealth and work for others in the future. He was really a hoarder, who thought only about his own comfort. Again, there is nothing wrong with enjoying God’s gifts. However, one must first recognize that they are from God, and second, that we are also to share those gifts. The deep foolishness was thinking that this earthly party would go on forever, and forever you would be the center of it all. Then it all came a cropper as that very night the man’s life was demanded of him.
All this is as Jesus taught us. Jesus taught us that not even He knew when the hour would come; that it would be like a thief in the night, unannounced. We are taught to be ready for His arrival. In the meantime, do the best we can, live in service to others, yes enjoy God’s kingdom but have a mindset that serving and providing for others is itself a source of joy. Accumulate, yes, for the future generations that may benefit from this, not to satiate yourself in an orgy of self-absorbed excess. In the end it is all a mindset. God will know why we do what we do and what we do with what we have been given. So, trust in God. That is, believe and obey.
Praise Be to God