August 5, 2007
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Americans can be described in terms of 3 “L’s”—Large, Leisurely, and Loaded. That is the less than flattering snapshot of today’s average American taken from the Statistical Abstract of the United States for 2007. Recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, this 1,300-page “Tale of Too Much” reports statistical trends in American life, and in short — we live a “Super-Size Me” life [Alexander, David. “Americans use TV, other media 10 hrs a day: Census” December 15, 2006, Reuters, http://news.yahoo.com.]
First “L,” Leisurely. Americans will spend nearly ten hours a day either watching television, surfing the Internet, reading books, newspapers, and magazines, or listening to music this year. That includes your devotional reading this morning and that CD you listened to on the way to church. That includes all the e-mails that will be sent tomorrow. By the way, email is now old stuff. Today’s technologically hip young people have moved on to text messaging and blogs. But all these things factor into the picture of the average American, with the means, the technology, and the time for ten hours of media connection a day.
Another thing the Statistical Abstract tells us is that we are large. Foreign travelers are stunned when they visit the United States and see the shape of our shape. The Abstract confirms what is obvious to anyone who walks our malls. I do not want to be ugly here. I could lose a few pounds myself, so I am not preaching at you, I am preaching at us. But hear the statistics: Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, one-third of that 2/3rds are medically obese! Compare that to the rest of the planet. The World Health Organization estimates that while one third of the world is well fed, one third is underfed, and one-third is starving.
Deborah Lynn Merrill visited Cambodia last year on a mission trip to an orphanage. [Merrill, Deborah Lynn. “Fat water.” http://deborahlynn.blogspot.com/2006_01_26_archive.html.] In her blog, she writes about Fat Water: “The people in the cities will not drink bottled water. We drink nothing but bottled water because the water here is not filtered. We even brush our teeth with bottled water. The hotel we were in last night had brown water. Some in our group went without a shower. Some poured bottled water over their heads and called it good.
“The reason Cambodians in the city will not drink bottled water is because they see all the Western tourists drinking it. And they think we’re fat! They think it’s the bottled water that makes Westerners fat! They may be on to something. They’re drinking bad water which probably has a parasite or two in it. We aren’t getting the parasites that so many Westerners could probably benefit from — to lose weight!! Now everyone in our group calls bottled water ‘fat water.’ ‘One large fat water for me please — to go!!’”
The census report noted that Americans drink about a gallon of soda a week, along with a half-gallon each of milk, bottled water, coffee, and beer. If you total the calories in a week’s worth of these beverages, we spend a day and a half’s allowance of calories just on our drinks. And that generously assumes we take our coffee black.
A third thing the Abstract shows is that we are rich. Half of U.S. households owned stocks and mutual funds in 2005, which seems reasonable until you realize that one in six people worldwide lives on less than $1 a day.
According to another report, the average American’s net worth amounted to $144,000 in the year 2000, more than 100 times higher than the average Indian or Indonesian, whose assets totaled $1,100 and $1,400, respectively.
Think about this: Americans bought 2.1 billion pairs of imported shoes in 2004. That’s an average of seven pairs of shoes per person! That blows my mind. I assume that most Americans were not barefooted before 2004, so they already had shoes. How could we possibly buy seven pairs of shoes per person in one year?
That seems like senseless waste. That is the real indictment of our society. We brainlessly waste our abundance. For example, last year, on this planet earth, fifteen million children died of hunger. Now you might say, well that is sad, but most of them died in places like Pakistan and India and Africa and we cannot do anything about that. Of course we can do something about it. For the price of one cruise missile, we could provide lunch for a whole school full of hungry children every day for 5 years. We could do it, but we would rather shoot missiles at people, so we make another choice. We choose not to feed the hungry, not to help the poor.
Have you ever seen the bumper stickers on people’s cars — “God bless America”? That is patriotic, but it misses the point. God already has blessed America. God has blessed us with an abundance such as the world has never seen. Maybe we need to start asking God, what he wants us to do with his blessings. When we look at our reality against the reality of the world around us, maybe instead of asking God to bless America, we need to ask how America can be a blessing to the world.
But that is not something that seems to ever cross most people’s minds. The average American, according to our own statistics, looks fat and rich and selfish. We are the most over consuming people on God’s earth. We are a culture of stuffed barns.
And Jesus had a thing or two to say about stuffed barns in Luke 12. It is called the parable of the Rich Fool. The parable begins in v16 where Jesus said, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully.” This was a man with a big farm, a farm the size of a county, and he had a very good harvest that year, and he thought what should I do with all this wheat? He realized that he had nowhere to story his harvest. And so he thought, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:18-19).
Lets think about this man for a moment. He works diligently and wisely. He is a long-term thinker and planner, and he saves his possessions instead of squandering them. He sounds like an American hero, doesn’t he? He is living the American dream. But what does God say?
Luke 12:20-21: “But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
God called the rich man a fool. What would God call us? As a society we are fixated on material possessions. We know that “you can’t take it with you” to the next world, but that does not stop us from storing up treasures for the rest of our time in this world. We are always focused on the future, saturated with advertisements for retirement plans and financial securities. Yet through this parable, Jesus challenges our focus on any earthly future. He dramatizes his point in the life of one individual, a rich man who dies at the very moment of acquiring financial security. And God says, to this grasping fellow, all that you have will belong to someone else and hence you have no security at all.
Perhaps Jesus has in mind a verse from Ecclesiastes, which reads, “Sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil” (Ecc 2:21 ESV). Sometimes a person works hard and works smart, and makes all the right decisions, and still they die and someone else gets the fruits of all their labors. That might not seem right, but that is the way it is.
Looking again at the parable of the rich fool, we notice the abundance of the first-person pronouns. In these few verses, the personal pronoun “I” occurs six times and the possessive pronoun “my” occurs five times. This shows us the self-centeredness of the rich man, as he contemplates his excessive wealth. Secondly, most of the parable is just the thoughts of this man. The parable is about what he is thinking, and he is thinking about himself. Jesus is emphasizing the man’s self-centeredness. It is all about me. He has outrageous wealth, enough to last several lifetimes, and what does he do? He wants to pile it all up and get some more.
So if you want to define the word “fool” from this parable, a fool is a person who only thinks of getting more and more stuff for themselves—which is, as I have said earlier, pretty much the American dream.
The rich man is a fool because he puts his trust and his faith in his possessions. This is a practical atheism; this is idolatry. He worships stuff. And the sad thing is, as the parable notes, he will ultimately lose it all.
Understand Jesus is not saying that things themselves are evil. Barns are not evil. Wheat is not evil. But if we replace God with things, that is evil, that is foolish. Things wear out. They break, they rust. And in the end we leave them anyway.
So what is the point of the parable? Jesus’ intent is that the rich man serve as a negative example.
Here was a man who had a extraordinary crop. He should have thanked God for it. He should have rejoiced in the opportunity he had to do good, to help others. He should have thought, “With this bumper crop, not a one person will go hungry in my county.” But none of that occurs to him. He is perplexed. He asks, “What shall I do because I have no room to store my crops.”
A homeless person, with not a dime to his name, could not have been more concerned and anxious, than this man who had it all. There is an old proverb that people who have the most worry the most. The more we have, the more we have to worry about. Most people think that if they just had a pile of money, that would solve all their problems. Not at all. A pile of money would just produce its own set of problems.
In the parable, the rich man speaks of “my” crops. He lays emphasis on the “my.” This is his folly. Nothing belongs to us; everything belongs to God. We are not owners. All that we have is lent to us. We are stewards of the Lord’s possessions. We are tenants on the Lord’s property.
And it was also folly that he did not realize that every second of his life was in the Lord’s hands. In the parable, he says, with absolute certainty, I will do this, I will do that. But in fact he does not know what the future will bring. He does not know that he is going to be dead that night. He is confident that his goods assure him of many years of ease and relaxation. When in fact they assured him of nothing at all.
It is interesting the way the KJV puts it: “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.” It is almost like Jesus is saying that this rich man has a soul that he is not making any use of anyway, so he might as well give it up now. But there is more than that. He is required to give an account of his spiritual life, of his soul.
Every person is required to make that same accounting. What have you done with your soul? Give an account of your relationship with God?
In the parable, the rich man’s death is a complete surprise. He lies down feeling well and good. He does not get up. So it happens sometimes. And so we must always be ready to give our account to God. The rich man was not ready. That was his foolishness. Are you ready? Are you ready to meet God, not in some dim far off future, but now, today.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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