And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 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.”’
20 “But 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?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”Luke 12:16-21
What kind of “barn” do you picture as you read this story?
I live outside of Nashville in a community where two-hundred-year-old farms still stand alongside newly constructed subdivisions and strip malls. There are large wooden barns everywhere. I imagine the rich man in Jesus’ parable stuffing giant buildings like these with his bumper crops.
But this is a large barn in First Century Israel…
“Crops” were poured into holes at the top (pictured below) and pulled from storage through the holes at the bottom (pictured above).
I was shocked when I stepped into this home in Israel. This was the rich man’s barn?
A completely full barn couldn’t possibly have fed a family more than a few weeks. If they had teenagers? At best, a few days.
It might take a single man without heirs months to eat a barn load of food but, without refrigeration, surely it would spoil in less time than that.
Did this rich man really think he’d hoarded enough food to last the rest of his days? Did he really think such a small stash would enable him to quit farming altogether and retire to a life of eating, drinking, and ease? What on earth is going on in this story?
The whole parable is an elaborate joke mocking the rich fool who overestimated the size of his stockpile and how long it could sustain his life. Even his best efforts to provide for himself would fall comically short.
Immediately after telling this story, Jesus reminded the listening crowd that God feeds all the birds and clothes all the flowers of the world every day.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!Luke 12:22-24
But the rich man isn’t just a fool for thinking he can out-provide God. He’s also a fool for failing to provide for his needy neighbors.
Our Israeli teacher told us it would have been shameful for a man to stuff his barn full while his community, languishing under Roman oppression, starved. The East takes hospitality very seriously. And so does God.
The prophet Ezekiel revealed which grievous sin drove God to destroy the entire city of Sodom:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.Ezekiel 16:49
The rich man is just one fool in Israel’s long history of arrogant hoarders who have no concern for others.
After telling this parable, and reminding his listeners to depend on God to meet their needs, Jesus commanded them to also be generous:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Luke 12:32-34
Those who come into the kingdom of the Messiah stop hoarding and start helping. They pledge to love the LORD with all their heart, all their soul, and everything else they are and they have. They are humble, not arrogant; dependent, not overfed; generous, not unconcerned.
Their barns are seldom empty because the LORD meets their needs. And their barns are seldom full because there are needs to meet.
• What does my current spending (of time, talent, wealth) show I really love?
Giver of Life, we woke up this morning because you are generous. We will eat today because you give us food. We are clothed today because you take care of us. Thank you.
We have often thanked you for giving us life while also depriving others of it. Today, we open our hands, we share from our barns, we deprive ourselves of comforts and wants to comfort those in need.
Be generous through us. Amen.