The parable was told in response to a request; a request that Jesus refuses. A man asks for Jesus to arbitrate an inheritance dispute. Having asked the rhetorical question who made me a judge or arbitrator over you, Jesus concludes with a warning: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15, ESV). Then Jesus tells the story of the rich fool.
The rich fool has a problem – a problem that many of us would like to have. He has so much that he is struggling with where to put it all. What do you give the man who has everything? Answer: storage containers. The rich man decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. That is where many modern readers struggle to understand the story. We hear the word barn and think a large, red wooden structure. Barns in the ancient world were often underground granaries that were plastered or bricked. “Tear down” likely refers “to the deliberate taking down of the barns in such a way that the material can still be used.” This rich man has abundance, and he plots a way to keep it all.
The parable gives the rich man’s inner dialogue.
…and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘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 12:17–19, ESV, emphasis added)
It is interesting to count the number of times the words, “I” and “my,” occur. If all the world’s a stage, this man acts if he is in a one man play.
But the rich fool has his exit. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:20, ESV). The word for “required” is interesting. It means to demand something back or as due as in the case of a loan. Jesus has given us the image that our life is on loan from God.
What happens when I view my life as on loan from God? It changes everything. My life, my time, and my resources are matters of stewardship. I will have to give an account. I must view things from God’s perspective and priorities.
This changed perspective makes the warnings understandable. The abundance of possessions is not the most important thing; God is most important. If I haven’t laid up treasures in heaven, I have nothing that will ultimately last. God will demand my life back someday. My life is on loan.