Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” – Luke 12:15-21
This parable is about a man who practically won the lottery. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.” A man who was already rich, became even richer by the grace of God. His land produced a bountiful harvest. It is implied that this rich man’s wealth, like many farmers, came as the result of good soil and good weather.
With this additional wealth the rich man asked himself, “What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?” Like a Powerball winner, he stopped to consider what he would do with his winnings. The rich man never thought of God, who is the giver of every good gift, who is the source of all of his blessings. The man thought only of himself and his own will.
He had more than enough to take care of himself, he already had an excess, he already had multiple barns filled with grain. But instead of being satisfied with what he had and giving even a small bit of his excess to others, he decided: “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!””
The man in the parable is not so different from you and me. If we won the lottery what would we do? We might already have a car. It might not be a Porsche and it might have its imperfections, but it successfully gets us from point A to point B. Yet with some extra cash we’d buy something brand new. We might have a home that already provides us with the basic shelter that we need. But wouldn’t it be nice to have something bigger, or to have a vacation home? And if we are considering retirement, the rich man’s attitude in the parable is representative of most people. So many of us have the attitude: “Let me make enough money to be financially secure, and then I can retire and relax. I can live off of everything that I’ve stored up. I can rest, eat, drink, and be merry!”
But at his time of judgement the rich man in the parable is left completely empty handed. “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” The rich man in the parable focused solely on himself and material wealth. Sadly, he never thought of the God who gave him everything he had, nor did he care at all about spiritual things.
What Jesus teaches us is to value first and foremost eternal goods over temporal goods. To be rich in what matters to God, in what is eternal. What is above, the things of God, faith, hope, and love, these are truly valuable, these are what last. And love is not subject to inflation. It is just as valuable today as it was 2,000 years ago.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus never condemns people for being wealthy or financially successful. Job was rich, King Solomon was rich, there are many saints in the history of the Catholic Church who were quite wealthy. The man in the parable isn’t admonished for his wealth, he is admonished for his greed. Jesus said, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
When we stand before God, our material possessions will be completely useless. As St. John of the Cross said, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” This parable confronts the hearer with the question: “Do I selfishly hoard and store up my time, talent, and treasure, or do I generously share the gifts that God has given me with others?” Jesus encourages us to be rich in what matters to God!