November 20, 2023

The Parable of the Foolish Rich Man (Archimandrite Joel Yiannakopoulos)

The Parable of the Foolish Rich Man

(Luke 12:13-21)

By Archimandrite Joel Yiannakopoulos

At the moment when the Lord gives the above-mentioned advice to His disciples, then "one from the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.'" This complaining brother was obviously the youngest. He complained because his elder brother did not want to share the property with him and was exploiting it. This younger brother wants to take advantage of the moral influence of the Lord, so he begs to help him in the distribution of the paternal inheritance. The Lord declares that the purpose for which He came into the world was not to get involved in financial matters, so He says to him: "Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" The Lord's address to the complaining brother as "man" shows His disapproval of him, because in the midst of so many spiritual words of the Lord, his mind was attached to material matters. Who appointed Me, says the Lord, a judge, to judge your dispute and differences, so that I can distribute the property between you? This is not My work, it is the work of the earthly authorities.

The Lord realized that the cause of the difference between the two brothers was the covetousness of the two brothers, so to correct things more deeply He turned to the people, and said to them: "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." In other words, says the Lord, man's life does not depend on the many material goods he can have, but on God. For this He brings forward the beautiful parable and says the following.

"The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully." A rich man's field bore much crop. He became rich not because of injustices or just efforts, but because of God's blessing. This blessing became a stumbling block to him, "And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’" His barns were small and did not fit the crops. He thinks about where to place his goods. After thinking "he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my produce and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul (your life) will be required of you (by your unexpected enemies); then whose will those things be which you have provided? (what you have collected, to whom will it be left?)’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (The same will happen to him, who treasures material goods not according to God.).

The main idea here is the following: Covetousness does not make our life greater and happier, because death is expected at any moment. Covetousness also puts the soul in danger, because it suffocates the good seed of the divine word and makes our salvation difficult.

Topic: The Foolishness of the Rich Man

We see two characters in the parable. The nameless rich man and the God of many names. The rich man is thinking and God is responding to the innermost thoughts and decisions of the rich man. With deep, as the rich man thinks, thought and prudence, he begins the reasoning of his "meditation", and with a reproach of foolishness, God responds to the thoughts of the rich man, calling him a fool. So let's see what is the foolishness of the rich man and the answer of the Lord and the benefit we get from them.

A. The Foolishness of the Rich Man.

For everyone in this world, there are two precious goods: life and the goods to maintain it. Both belong to God. For the rich man, however, both belong to himself, to his power, because he says "my produce", "my goods", "my barns", "my soul", "my crops". This incorrect basis becomes the source of many follies. And the first the covetous man says: "What shall I do?" Before he got his goods, he thought that when he got them, he would have peace. And yet! Now the cares, the worries begin. Before he had the care for acquisition or the patience of deprivation. Now with enrichment he falls into conservation care. Pacing back and forth in the room, tossing and turning in the bed, anxiety! "What shall I do?" What anxiety and folly!

The second folly. "So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns... and I will say to my soul...". The previous theoretical worries are becoming real. Barns are torn down in order for new ones to be constructed. The enjoyment of goods is postponed. "I will say...". One worry is solved, as other, larger ones are born in the manner of the Lernaean hydra, and the attainment of his happiness is postponed. How terrible is this second two-fold folly!

The third folly. The rich man says: "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years." This folly concerns his goods. It is yours, he says, and no other man's or God's. The goods are many, and your earthly duration will be long. How great is this double folly, when he thinks that the goods are his own and by them he will prolong life!

The result of these basic follies of the rich man about life and material goods is the fourth folly: "Eat, drink, be merry. This is yours and nothing else. Enjoy them! Neither the rich God nor your poor fellow human beings have any right over them. Make the nice foods, alcoholic drinks and everything that makes you happy and enjoy them. There you will find your happiness." How foolish it is to think that with the enjoyment of material goods he will find his happiness!

B. The Wisdom of God.

"Fool" says God to the rich man. As for where the foolishness of the rich man lies, we said above. But where is the cleverness of God's questions? Behold: "Soul", says the rich man, "you have many goods...". "This night your soul will be required of you", says God. "You have many goods laid up for many years," says the rich man. "This night your soul will be required of you," says God. "Eat, drink, be merry", says the rich man. "Whose will those things be which you have provided?" says God. Here is God's succinct answer. How much depth of meaning! And specifically: "This night your soul will be required of you", says God to him. In contrast to the absolute sovereignty the rich man thought he had over himself, God puts forward to him the myriad dangers of "required", which life encounters, especially of the rich man, such as sudden death from apoplexy due to many cares, violent death due to robbers of the mountains and the social revolutions of the cities, murders, kidnappings.

Through goods, there are many dangers! They are subject to destruction due to an earthquake, to incineration due to lightning or fire.

"This night". Against the supposed longevity of the rich man, the Lord answers: "This night". Not many years nor a few, not months nor weeks, not weeks nor days, not one twenty-four hour day you will live, but you will die this night. The dreamy night of happiness will become a night of unhappiness. Against the foolishness of the rich man's "eat, drink, be merry", the third answer of the Lord appears, which is the pinnacle of the wisdom of the Lord and the foolishness of the rich man. "Then whose will those things be which you have provided?" It's like saying to the rich man: You will not enjoy your goods. This embitters you in the body and tempts you in the soul, because your body is deprived of its enjoyment, and your soul is embittered, because at the time for which you made the happy future, all hope of enjoyment is suddenly taken away from your soul. To whom will they turn?

Friends or Enemies?

C. Us?

The depth of meaning, which these questions of God have, closes the rich man's mouth to an answer, but opens your soul, my reader, to thoughts. And lo! The eternal word of the Lord always has its application, but more so today. And today these are the follies of men and this is God's answer. The euphoria of material goods breeds a lot of foolishness and anxiety.

"What shall I do?" What shall I do? says the poor man, because he has nothing to eat; what shall I do? says the rich man too, because he does not know what to eat first and what to do with his wealth, money or appearance? "You have many goods", says the rich man to himself, as if he were the absolute master of his material goods. But today, how unfaithful a slave wealth is! It leaves without us realizing it. "Laid up for many years", the rich man says about his goods today. And yet how many rich people perish in the midst of so many goods without the goods being able to help them! "Eat, drink, be merry" shout today's rich people, as if food and drink, which pass through the throat and enter the stomach, can give joy and happiness to the soul. The rich generally forget that they themselves are temporary, much more the material goods. Also the rich forget that they are stewards of the material goods, for which they will give an account, how they managed them. They have the distribution and not the ownership over them. How much anxiety and folly do these give rise to!

And today the Lord answers as follows: "What shall I do" says the rich man, when he lives, but "whose will those things be which you have provided?" God asks every rich man when he dies. In other words, what should I do, the rich man asks himself when he lives. What will you do, God asks every rich man, when he dies. The rich man had anxiety and folly when he lived, he feels even more terrible anxiety and folly when he dies, because it is not excluded that his goods will remain with his enemies.

An example of the foolishness of a rich person is the following: Someone, very greedy, had built an apartment in the basement of his house, where he kept his money. This apartment was closed by an iron door, which was invisible. One day he went down there bringing a lot of money. When he entered, he forgot to take the key out of the lock, absorbed as he was by his money. He closed the door, left the key on the outside and began to count his treasure with pleasure. The moment came to come out, but it was impossible to come out. He shouts, knocks on the door, but in vain. No one suspects that place. However, because hours and days have passed and he has not appeared, his family is looking for him, but cannot find him. A blacksmith was informed of this event. He remembered that he had ordered a door with a latch lock built for him. Maybe he was there. Indeed, the blacksmith and the rich man's family go to that place, open the door and see the miser dead from hunger!

All the anxieties and follies of the rich man are due to the fact that he did not want to give alms in order to send his goods to the next life.

Source: From the book The Life of Christ. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.

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