A Jubilee Parable: The Rich Fool (Jubilee #2 from Luke 12:13-21)
Two weeks ago I preached “Jubilee.” It comes from Leviticus 25. Every 50th year, all land went back to its original family-owners, all slaves freed, all debts forgiven. A clean slate and a chance for a new start! It’s a bringing low and a lifting up.
Jesus announced in the Nazareth synagogue that He was Jubilee in the flesh – He had come to “preach good news to the poor, set prisoners free, give sight to the blind, release the oppressed, and announce the year of the Lord’s grace.” i.e., announce Jubilee (see Luke 4:18-19).
The Jewish people never observed it. They rationalized it away and displaced it with their own selfish interests and motives. So OT prophets are filled with pro-tests against their religion that has all the outward ritual correct but the heart wrong (cf. 2 Timothy 2:5). Amos preached to very religious Israel – folks meticu- lous about technical obedience to all Moses required while their society allowed seizing the poor man’s land (2:7), debt slavery (2:6), courts rigged in favor of the powerful (5:10, 15), sexual abuse of women (2:7b), and exploitation of workers (8:4-6). Satan has always successfully lured God’s people to substitute a passion to meet the letter for the externals of the law over being grace and light in the world. Israel had forgotten they were redeemed slaves! Amos said in essence, “you are not God’s worshipers if you are not God’s Jubilee.”
Jesus emphasized the Good News of Jubilee in His ministry and teaching – inclu-ding its justice and reversals. God had rescued His enslaved people from Egypt (saved them) and gave them some of the wealth of Egypt as they left. Jesus’ mission was to rescue enslaved people from sin, reverse their fortunes, and lead them to salvation – to do exactly what God did in the OT.
Luke highlights Jesus’ work with the word “save.” “Save” is the word often used when Jesus healed someone (Performed a miracle). A few examples of people “saved” are Bartimaus (Mark 10:52), man with a withered hand (Mark 3:4-5), centurion’s servant (7:3), sinful woman (7:50), demoniac (8:36), and Jairus’ daughter (8:50). Many Christians today see “salvation” only in a next-worldly sense – the forgiveness of sin with heaven to follow. That idea of salvation is less than Jesus’ idea. Salvation seen in only that way pushes reaching out to a world needing Jubilee blessings to secondary importance.
Jesus, by healing the sick, feeding the poor, and releasing the oppressed, Jesus proclaimed and delivered the enormous good news of God’s grace. Both words and His deeds declare the new kingdom’s good news. Salvation is heaven in a while but it’s new life, wholeness, forgiveness, and healing… NOW!
Luke’s gospel tells stories of four rich men and Jubilee swept into their lives. The Rich Man & Lazarus (16:19-31) – reversed fates, the rich one brought low and the poor one exalted. The Rich Young Ruler (18:18-25) – a keeper of all the Torah all his life except the principles of Jubilee; he will not become poor. Zacchaeus’ – a known sinner who did what Jesus told the rich Ruler to do… gave away his wealth and restored twice what he had taken fraudulently. His embrace of Jubilee led to Jesus wonderfully saying, “Today salvation has come to this house.” Jubilee takes the rich and powerful “low” and lifts the “lowly” high.
It shows vividly in the 4th story, the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21) – one who hoarded his wealth and lived a life opposite the principles of Jubilee.
This parable is as old as time and as new as now… a man’s life has been a success, he has ideas of how to enjoy what he’s gathered and has set it all in place, but it is all suddenly altered when something unexpected intervenes. How many plans are laid that never come to pass? Robert Burns wrote, “the best laid schemes of mice and men go oft astray.”
Jesus bookended this parable with warnings about covetousness: “…he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against wanting to have more and more things. Life is not made up of how much a person has” (v 15)… And then about greed: “That is how it will be for whoever stores things away for themselves but is not rich in the sight of God” (v 21).
Jesus’ premise is simple: a farmer was so prosperous that his harvest exceeded his barns capacity. He might have given some to neighbors and the poor, but no. In-stead he will demolish his now smallish barns and build bigger to hold all his wealth. The crown jewel of his plans is to sit back at ease and consume it on himself. But Greater Forces had other plans. Death comes and reversal comes – he is stripped of his wealth which passes to unnamed others. Let’s look at 2 wrong things he remembered and 4 essential things he forgot.
Wrong thing to remember # 1: HE REMEMBERED HIMSELF. His attitude was po-lar opposite from Christianity – instead of denying himself, he aggressively af-firmed himself. Do you hear the 1st person singular pronouns: “I” and “my” 11 times? Not a hint of thought of anyone else except #1 in his world, himself! He was like Rita Snowden’s self-centered Edith: “Edith lived in her own world, bound-ed on the north, south, east, and west by Edith.” Jesus came to banish “I, me, and my” from our vocabulary, teaching that we are a community… always plural.
Wrong thing to remember #2: HE REMEMBERED THE WORLD. He loved the world. To him no other world existed. Christians certainly shouldn’t despise the world for God created it and called it “good.” But to worship the world is folly. People who love the world think they can amass things to guarantee happiness and security – a process very much like being thirsty and drinking sea water… the more you drink the thirstier you become until at last you die. The world is impor-tant, yes, but only as a stage to another world. The one who remembers only this world doesn’t remember the real goal of living.
Essential things forgotten #1: HE FORGOT HIS NEIGHBORS. Just a glance about would have shown him plenty of opportunities for his surplus. But no, his idea of happiness was to “eat, drink, and be merry.” To be a blessing and lighten other people’s loads never entered his mind. Here’s the thing about spreading bles-sings… those who pour blessings out on others have plenty splash on themselves.
Essential things forgotten #2: HE FORGOT THAT TIME IS LIMITED. The wise quickly learn that time is always short. Jayneen and I have been married almost 39 years – every time I bring it up, she tells me, “It’s been five wonderful years.” Kidding aside, 39 years seems a long time… but it’s only a little more than 14,000 days. Older folks generally look back at youth to confess not properly regarding the tiny-ness of time or the greatness of eternity. Surely one of the most dangerous words in our language is “tomorrow”…
There’s a story of 3 apprentice devils telling Satan their plans to ruin men. One said, “I’ll tell them there is no God.” “They won’t believe you,” Satan replied. “I’ll tell them there is no hell,” said the second. “No, they know hell I real,” said Satan. But the third said, “I’ll tell them there’s no hurry.” “Winner,” said Satan, “you’ll get them by the millions.”
Essential things forgotten #3: HE FORGOT GOD. He doesn’t love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind; he doesn’t love God at all! Plans that leave God out leave out the most important factor of all (see James 4:13-15).
Essential things forgotten #4: HE FORGOT THAT HE WAS HIS CHARACTER, NOT HIS POSSESSIONS. His concentrated on what he would surely leave behind and gave no attention to collecting things he could take with him beyond the grave (see Matt 6:20ff.). Attempts at material self-sufficiency are all futile. He is called a “fool.” Remember what the Psalm said: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no god’”? This man is God-less in his heart, soul, and mind; he never ever knew that, in the end, he was dependent on God.
The only value of his life is to serve as a negative example of the wrong use of personal possessions. He placed all faith and trust there. And Jesus’ story gives a warning for living life with no serious thoughts of the place God has in it. One obsessed with possessions, status, and achievements is driven by acquiring them and easily and often winds up oblivious to God’s call to him to bless his neighbor.
The opposite of how this man lived – a life “rich toward God” – is the goal. A life “rich toward God” is devoted to serving God daily, having eyes to see the needs of others round about us, and surely having a clear view of the end of our days…
An older man spoke to a young man… “Young man, what are your plans?” asked the older man. “Learn a trade,” was the answer. “Then what?”… “Set up a business.” “Then what?”… Make my fortune.” “Then what?”… “Grow old, retire, and live on my money.” “Then what?”… “I suppose die.” “Then what?”…