The Parable of the Rich Fool

The Parable of the Rich Fool

The Parable of the Rich Fool.

Please read Luke 12:13-21.

THE CONTEXT. a. There was a crowd of people surrounding Jesus, and a man in the crowd tried to recruit Jesus to issue a ruling in an inheritance squabble. This man demands that Jesus be the judge that carries out his wishes. Rather gruffly, Jesus rebuffs this man, and in a disapproving tone tells him that he has no say in the matter. Jesus apparently wants no part in this matter if it divides these 2 brothers involved. He is a reconciler, not a divider.

b. Jesus then drops a pearl of wisdom on the crowd. He says that it pays to be careful of greed, and that quality of life doesn’t depend on having more possessions than you need. He then tells the parable of the rich fool.

THE PARABLE. a. Jesus knows that most in the crowd would be very familiar with Psalm 49, which is an extended meditation on this very topic.

b. There was a rich man who enjoyed a bumper crop, an unexpected surplus, an influx of unearned wealth. He did nothing to earn or deserve this extra wealth.

c. He debated with himself what to do about this windfall. One notices in the story that the rich man didn’t have a community to rejoice with him about his abundance, he didn’t have friends to talk this over with, he didn’t discuss it with family, he wasn’t thankful to God for the surplus, and he never considered sharing it with those in need. He didn’t need the surplus, but he privately decided to keep it anyway.

d. The rich man gives a speech that totally revolves around himself. One couldn’t find a speech more full of “I, Me, Mine,” more centered on himself, more dominated by the 1st person singular. Preoccupied by self, he forgot about God and others. He doesn’t seem to realize that he is all alone. Just him and his wealth. It was a pitiful speech, and he ended it by saying his goal was to “enjoy himself.”

e. God thunders into the scene at this point. He called the rich man a fool! The term means stupid man. A fool is someone who lives as though God doesn’t exist, someone who is a functional atheist. Someone who lives with no ultimate accountability. God tells the man his soul, which he thought was his, has actually been on loan, and it’s time to return on the loan. He is to die. God then shows him he was actually poverty-stricken in this life: distant from God, no friends, no community, separated from family, utterly isolated and alone.

f. God says to the rich fool in no uncertain terms, as Kenneth Bailey put it, “Look at what you have done to yourself! You plan alone, you build alone, you indulge alone, and now you will die alone!” The rich fool has lived a pitiful life.

g. Jesus then concludes with another word to the crowd. Don’t hoard possessions for yourself, but instead be rich toward God.

FINAL THOUGHTS. a. What does it mean to lay up heavenly treasures, to be rich toward God? It means using your possessions and surplus the way God would want you to. Don’t let your wealth distract you from a relationship with God and others. Serve the needy with the goods you have. Recognize that everything you own is on loan, including your soul, and your time on earth. Don’t forget your concern for the next life as well as this one. Invest in a heavenly relation with God through prayer, study, obedience and Gospel virtues. Communion with God and service to others makes you rich in heaven. Love God and love your neighbor, and you are laying up treasures.

b. Laying up your treasures in heaven? Another way of saying it is that great old gospel song, “Sending up my timber.”

Oh, there’s a mansion somewhere in glory

that the Lord has prepared for you and for me.

May be morning, night or noon,

I don’t know, children, just how soon.

That’s why I’m sending up my timber, everyday.

c. Our church sings a good reminder every Sunday after the offering: “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”  (1 Chron.29:14)

d. Any good Jew would immediately know that Jesus’ parable is more or less an imaginative take on Psalm 49“They trust in their wealth, and boast of the profusion of their riches. But no one can ever redeem himself or pay his own ransom to God, the price for himself is too high; it can never be that he will live on for ever and avoid the sight of the abyss… In prosperity people lose their good sense, they become no better than dumb animals. So they go on in their self-assurance, right up to the end they are content with their lot.”  (verses 6-9 and 12-13New Jerusalem Version).


  1. How can you tell the difference between “selfish ambition” (Phil. 2:3; Gal. 5:20; 2 Cor. 12:20) and ambition? Is it okay to be ambitious? When?
  2. In the story, the man was not by all accounts a fraudulent person, he was hard-working, diligent, a careful planner. Why was he judged so harshly?
  3. Contrast this parable with Jesus’ teaching immediately following, Luke 12:22-34, about worry and anxiety, about ravens and lilies. Is it realistically possible to live the way He describes? How?

Resources: Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Kenneth Bailey, Through Peasant Eyes; Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus; Henry Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible.