Fill your barn with God, not Self
by Jack Wald | March 10th, 2019

Luke 12:13-21

One of the most memorable moments of my years in Morocco came in June 2006 when I was asked to visit a village outside of Ouarzazate to check out a proposed project to start schools in rural areas. They had requested funding for student education from a group in the US and that group wanted me to visit the project and report back to them. So I flew with a friend into Ouarzazate and was picked up in a 4X4. We drove for two to three hours over rough roads and dry river beds to get to this Berber village.

When we entered the village, we were taken to a building with a rectangular room that had two small tables, carpets on the floor and just a few cushions. As a guest I was, of course, given several of the cushions to sit on. In the room there were about a dozen boys who would benefit from the school, eight of the men from the village and the local imam. Although the grant organization insisted there be equal numbers of boys and girls in the school, only the boys were present.

I wanted to hear their stories and tried getting information about life in their village but was not getting anywhere, so I decided to help them tell me stories by telling the story of the ungrateful tiger. I had just told this story as part of the sermon the previous Sunday so it was fresh in my mind. I talked in French and the man who drove us to the village translated into Berber.

Let me give a quick summary of the story. A village in India was being bothered by tigers so they dug some deep holes, covered them with palm branches, and waited to catch the tigers. A young boy came to the village to visit his uncle and heard a tiger growling and came to see what was going on. The tiger told him he had fallen in the hole and if he did not get out his wife and children would suffer. The boy felt sorry for the tiger and put a branch down into the hole so the tiger could climb out.

Then the tiger announced he was going to eat the boy. The boy protested that he had been kind to the tiger so why should he eat him and the tiger responded that this is what tigers do, they eat people. The boy suggested they ask someone what would be the fair thing to do and they went to talk to an ox. The ox said that men worked him hard and then cut him up and ate him so he thought the tiger should eat the boy.

The boy quickly suggested they ask someone else and asked a tree. The tree said men chopped him down and burned him so he thought it was fair for the tiger to eat the boy.

Just then the boy saw a rabbit and suggested they ask him. The rabbit said he needed to see the situation as it had been so he could make a wise decision. They went back to the hole. The rabbit asked where the tiger had been and the tiger climbed into the pit. The rabbit asked where the branch had been and the boy pulled up the branch.

Now with the tiger in the pit and the boy free from the tiger, the rabbit said the tiger should have been grateful and the boy went to the village to see his uncle.

Telling that story was the most amazing experience. As the story was told and then translated into Berber, I looked around and everyone was leaning forward, listening and eager to hear what happened next. When I said the tiger and the boy asked Mr. Ox for his advice, everyone burst into laughter. I have never heard a story listened to so intently.

Rural Morocco is an oral culture where stories are king and telling that story in this cultural setting helped me see how the stories of Jesus were received.

We are beginning a series of seven sermons on the parables of Jesus and here at the beginning, I want to help us understand how to hear these parables.

Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart wrote an excellent book, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. They talk about how to understand and interpret the many different genres of literature that are in our Bible. I highly recommend you read this book. There are copies in our church library.

Gordon Fee said that a good parable is like a good joke. A joke has a story that is told with points of reference and then at the end there is a punch line, something that is completely unexpected, and if you have understood the points of reference the punch line makes you laugh. But if you miss the points of reference, the punch line is not funny at all. And when I explain the points of reference, you may say, “Oh, I see,” but you will not laugh.

Let me illustrate with this joke:
Pablo Picasso surprised a burglar at work in his studio. The burglar got away, but Picasso told the police he could do a rough sketch of what he looked like. On the basis of his drawing, the police arrested a mother superior, a washing machine, and the Eiffel tower.

Did you laugh? If not, why not? It really is a good joke.

What are the points of reference in this joke? Pablo Picasso is the main point of reference and if you do not know who he is, the joke will not mean anything to you. You have to know that Pablo Picasso is a famous artist but even that is not enough. You have to know that a portrait of someone by Picasso is likely to have eyes and other body parts where they do not belong and what you see may only slightly resemble a person. So a rough sketch of the burglar would not show any resemblance at all to the burglar. This leads to the punch line that on the basis of his drawing, they arrested a nun, a washing machine and the Eiffel tower. Each of these looked as much like his drawing as the burglar. The joke pokes fun at the art style of Picasso.

If you know the points of reference of a joke, you will laugh when the punch line is delivered. But if you do not know the points of reference, who Pablo Picasso is, or what kind of art he made, then that has to be explained and at the end you will say, “Oh, I see,” but you will not laugh. The joke will not be funny.

The same is true with the parables. Because we do not live in the culture of Palestine at the time of Jesus, we miss the points of reference and they need to be explained to us. And when they are, we understand the punch line at the end and say, “Oh, I see,” but we miss the power of the parable. We do not experience the parable the way Jesus’ hearers did or like the men and boys in the village outside of Ouarzazate experienced the story of the ungrateful tiger.

Let me illustrate this with the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable the reference points are the man who is beaten and robbed, the priest and the Levite who pass by and the Samaritan who stops to help. The punch line is that the Samaritan is the one of the three who stopped to help him. In order to get the punch line, you have to know that the priest and the Levite were considered holy and righteous men. These were men you would be proud to have as sons and fathers. But the Samaritan was despised. When religious Jews crossed through Samaria to come to Jerusalem, when they stepped over the border from Samaria into Israel, they wiped the dust off their feet as a rejection of this nation that had defiled itself.

When Jesus told this parable, you could hear the sounds of disapproval when the priest and the Levite passed by. They did not do what they should have done. But when Jesus said the Samaritan stopped to help, there was a loud gasp of astonishment. I don’t think people were pleased when they heard Jesus tell this parable. This was a highly provocative story.

How do we interpret the parables? A parable is not an allegory in which each part of the story means something else. Augustine, in the third century, interpreted the parable of the Good Samaritan as an allegory in which every detail was given a spiritual meaning. The man was Adam, who lost his immortality when he was beaten up by the robbers, who represent the devil and his angels. The Samaritan represents Christ, who took the man to the inn, which represents the church. Even the two coins represent this life and the life to come, and the innkeeper is Paul.

But the point of the parable was to address the question the expert in the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Augustine turned the parable into a presentation of the Gospel, including Paul who was not a part of the church when Jesus told the parable.

When Jesus told his parables, he told them to illustrate something he was teaching. The story itself had a beginning and an end and a plot, but the details of the story were not making any particular theological or moral point. The punch line, the unexpected twist at the end of the parable was the point. The details of the story were simply points of reference to set up the story for the unexpected ending and it is the ending that is the point of the parable.

As we preach through the parables we will try to make clear the points of reference that set up the punch line at the end. And then we will try to help us understand what the point of the parable is. Why did Jesus tell this parable to these people at this particular point in time? That context tells us what the point of the parable is.

We may not hear the parables the way those who heard Jesus tell the parable did, but we will try to come as close to that experience as we can.

With this as an introduction, let’s move to the parable of the Rich Fool.

The context for the parable is in verses 13-14
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

This was not a strange request. This is what rabbis did. Because the laws of inheritance were in the Penteteuch, the first five books of the Bible, rabbis were asked to interpret what was written and make a judgment.

Normally Jesus showed a great deal of compassion to those who suffered and here there is a man who was suffering. The text does not give specifics about his situation, but I am assuming, because of the nature of inheritance, that he was not looking simply for the money. In addition to the money he was looking for justice. He wanted his share of his father’s estate.

But Jesus who showed so much compassion to people, did not show it here.
he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator between you?”

This is not a gentle response and Jesus’ use of the term “man” is a rebuke. Jesus is clearly irritated by the question and as his response to the request he gives a warning.
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

What did the man think when he heard Jesus say this? Do you think he was satisfied? Of course not. His brother was not sharing the inheritance and what Jesus said did not take away his sense of injustice. He was still angry at his brother, bitter that he was being deprived of what should fairly be his.

And so Jesus tells his parable because stories have a way of reaching us that teaching does not. Stories have a way of sneaking truth into our hearts, especially in emotionally charged situations.

Let me read the parable from The Message translation.
16–19 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
21 “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

The parable begins with a description of a successful farmer. Eugene Peterson says his farm produced a terrific crop. The NIV says his ground yielded an abundant harvest.

If you read through the Old Testament, an abundant harvest was a clear sign of God’s blessing on a righteous man. There is no indication that this farmer was greedy, that he cheated, that he was immoral. He came by his wealth honestly. People looked up to him as a godly man because of how wonderfully God blessed him. He was a good businessman. If there had been business schools in the time of Jesus, this farmer would have been invited to give a lecture on how he had been so successful. The farmer received a great gift of God’s provision and kindness.

The problem was not the rich man’s abundant harvest; the problem was his response to what he received.
17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’

The problem is revealed in how he described what he had received. My crops, my barns, my surplus grain. This is the sin of those who have what they consider to be “earned wealth.” They look at all they have achieved and credit themselves for their wealth and success.

They neglect the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

This is one of the verses I had posted on the wall in front of my desk in my years of business.

People marvel at the success of Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, who ranks as the richest person in the world. But as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book, Outliers, Bill Gates, as a teenager in the 1960s, had unlimited access to a computer which was a very rare privilege. Bill Gates is a brilliant man, but there were thousands of people his age who were just as brilliant – but they did not have unlimited access to a computer where they could use their brilliance to create what Bill Gates created. Time and chance happened to Bill Gates.

There were many people who were more qualified to run the business where I worked for thirteen years before coming to Morocco but they did not have a father who invited them to come work with him. Time and chance happened to me.

Like the rich farmer, success in life is a combination of our skills and talents, our hard work, and luck. We were in the right place at the right time and benefitted. We need to be grateful for the advantages we received that allowed us to prosper.

Why did Jesus call this rich farmer a fool? Peterson ends the parable with Jesus saying, “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

An abundant harvest requires rain at the right time, not too much rain, no storms at the time of harvest. The weather conditions have a lot to do with whether there will be a good harvest or not. The abundant harvest of the rich farmer came because of his skillful management and because of the right weather conditions.

The rich farmer should have given thanks to God. And because God had blessed him, he should have asked God how he could bless others with what he had received. Instead it was self, self, self, self. That was his first problem.

His second problem was that he looked into the future and put his trust in what he had in his barns. The Message translation puts his response this way,
I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’

His future perspective was entirely self-centered. “I have enough. I don’t have to worry ever again. I can take it easy and coast through the rest of my life.”

The Rich Fool’s confidence and trust rested on what could easily be taken away. To use another of the parables of Jesus, his house was built on sand and when a storm came, the sand under his house washed away and his house collapsed.

History is full of people who thought they would have an easy life because of their financial situation and then the stock market crashed or there was a war or a plague, or a heart attack or some other unforseen situation. How many of the 325 people in the first class section of the Titanic were sailing to the US without a worry in the world when it hit an iceberg and sunk?

The rich farmer was delighted with the financial security his abundant harvest brought him, but what about the men and women who worked in his fields? What about the women in the community who were widowed? What about someone who had an accident and would not be able to do manual work? Why did he not give a moment’s thought to other people who might benefit from his good fortune?

In the midst of delighting over his abundant harvest,
God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

With his crops not yet in the barns that had not yet been built, his life ended. Ecclesiastes writes about the meaninglessness of working hard to build wealth and then dying and leaving it to someone who did not work for it at all. (Ecclesiastes 2:20–21)
So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.

But this is only an earthly problem. The larger problem is that the rich farmer left all he had accumulated in his life and then faced the judgment of God who demands an accounting of his mortal soul. All of his grain and wealth would not be able to pay his debt.

In the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, the unrighteous were judged by the king because they did not help the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite the strangers to their homes, clothe the poor, or visit the sick and those in prison. (Matthew 25:41–45)

How we use the gifts we have been blessed with has eternal consequences.

Jesus concluded the parable of the Rich Fool by saying,
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

When we put all of our energy and attention on how to be successful in this life and do nothing to prepare for an eternal life where none of what we have accumulated will have any value, we may be short-term geniuses but we are long-term fools.

Let me draw three lessons from this parable.

First, the parable of the Rich Fool makes us aware of the foolishness of putting trust in what will not last.

In the Peanuts comic strip, Woodstock, the bird friend of Snoopy, says in one panel, “Never fall in love with a snowflake.” When it is cold outside and snow is falling, you can hold out your hand and the flakes of snow will sit in your hand so you can see them, but very quickly the warmth of your hand will melt the snowflake and it will be gone.

Wealth lasts longer than a snowflake, but not as long as eternity. There is a Chinese proverb that says: “Wealth does not pass three generations.” Even families with huge fortunes see their fortunes dwindle over the generations.

James wrote in his letter, (James 1:9–11)
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

Wealth is like an ice cube on a hot summer day.

John Ortberg wrote a book titled: At the End of the Game It All Goes Back in the Box. When you play Monopoly and win, you end up with all the properties, all the houses, all the hotels and all the money. You have won! You have everything! But then you put all the cards and houses and hotels and money back in the box and put it away in the closet.

No matter how successful you are in life, no matter how much you accumulate, you will die and you will be put in a box and lowered into the ground. You will not be able to take with you any of what you have accumulated. And then, what will you have as you face your future?

Jim Elliot, who was maratyred in 1956 in Ecuador, wrote in his diary, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

That is truth with a capital T.

A second truth from this parable is that you do not own what you have. What you have belongs to God and you are merely a steward of what you have received.

The Rich Fool said, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.’

My crops, my barns, my grain, my goods. He is completely self-absorbed. There is not a hint that he is thinking of anyone but himself, not God and not others. Who had his gold before he did? Where did the gold come from? Who had his gold after he died? Go to a museum and you can see artifacts that someone thousands of years ago took pride in owning. But this ownership is long gone and we do not even know the name of the owner. How meaningful was this ownership?

Most of what we say we own will end up someday in a junk pile and be buried in the earth. It came from the earth and it will return to the earth so why do we say we own it?

We have some things in our possession for the short, borrowed time our bodies live before returning to the dust, but they will be someone’s possession after we die. So the question then becomes what do we do with the possessions while we have them?

Let me suggest two actions to take with the possessions we have. First, we need to be thankful that we have been given those things.

James wrote: (James 1:17)
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,

When we acknowledge that, we will give thanks for what we receive. We will pray with gratitude for what we have.

This is how Jesus instructed us to pray for the food we need for each day. (Matthew 6:11)

Whether we have food just for today or for the next fifty years, we need to be grateful for what we have received.

Secondly, because we have been given the things we possess by God, we need to use what we have received for God’s purposes.

Where do you think Jesus got the idea for this parable? In the creative process, Jesus saw something, heard something and then got the idea for the stories he told. Do you think Jesus got the idea for this parable from his encounter with the rich young ruler? Remember that the rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus looked into his heart, saw his attachment to his wealth, and told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor – then he could come and follow him. This was a very likeable young man with much to admire and it must have pained Jesus to see him walk away, unable to give up his attachment to his possessions.

I wonder if Jesus thought about this young man and told this story to express the folly of holding on to wealth. The young man walked away from eternal life for the sake of wealth he would one day lose anyway. That was a foolish decision.

Jesus does not ask everyone to give everything to the poor, but we do need to ask God what he wants us to do with what we have. How can we share what we have? Who does God want us to help with what we have? These are the questions we need to be asking.

When Jesus walked on this earth, he fed the poor, healed the sick, cast demons out of the possessed, comforted the grieving, touched the untouchable, valued the unrespectable, encouraged the hopeless.

We are to do, in his name, what he did. We are to use our resources: our money, our talents, our time, to love people the way he loved people. God does not bless us so we can sit in the privacy and comfort of our homes and enjoy the blessings. God blesses us so we can bless others.

The parable of the Rich Fool makes us aware of the foolishness of putting trust in what will not last. We do not own what we have. What we have belongs to God and we are merely stewards of what we have. Wealth toward self is poverty toward God.

The third truth from this parable is that when you stand in front of a king, make a request only a king can grant.

If you had a private meeting with the king or president of your country and you could ask him for anything, what would you ask him? How absurd would it be if you had this private meeting, sitting on a comfortable chair in his plush office and when he leaned toward you and asked, “What can I do for you?” you said, “Can I have a pair of shoes?”

When the leader of your country can do so many things for you and all you ask for is a pair of shoes that will wear out and be thrown away, you have trivialized your request.

The man who was listening to Jesus and wanted him to intervene in his inheritance conflict with his brother had no idea who Jesus was. But if this man had known Jesus as Paul knew Jesus, would he still have asked for something so trivial as help in getting his share of the inheritance?

Paul wrote that Jesus is: (Colossians 1:15–17)
the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

When you stand before the pre-existing creator of the universe and you ask for help in getting some money that will soon slip through your fingers and be worthless, you are completely missing the mark.

No wonder Jesus was exasperated when the man asked him about his brother not sharing the inheritance. I can hear him saying, “Do you want a better job? Here, take it but it will be taken from you and then what will you have? Do you want more money? Here, have more money but you will die and then what will you do with your poverty? Do you want more people to like you? Here, be famous. But where you are going your fame will not go and then who will recognize you when you knock on the door and want to come into paradise?”

I am not saying we should not pray about all the things that make us worried and anxious, even little things. But if the little things are consistently the most important things in your life, then you are missing the joy of being loved by Jesus and the privilege of working with Jesus.

Take time to quiet yourself and come before Jesus this week. What request do you have for Jesus? In what way do you want his help? On what are you most focused?

Ask Jesus to help you take on his heart for the world. Ask Jesus to help you be compassionate toward people as Jesus was compassionate toward the people he encountered in Palestine. Ask Jesus how he wants you to use your time, yourthousands finances, your talents in service to him.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”