What if this parable is not really about storage?
The challenge in this parable about the rich man and his barns presents itself as an attack against planning, saving, and investing in the future. It is shocking and surprising. Shouldn’t we take steps now to get ready for the future? It seems more ‘foolish’ to us not to be prepared than to be proactive like he is doing.
We have many things to plan for in our lives: uncertainty in the global economy, school, housing, retirement, etc. This man seems to be not only successful in his business, but is also someone who has assessed his assets carefully and managed his risks accordingly. Shouldn’t he be commended? Aren’t these things we aspire to ourselves? Why do you think Jesus is giving him such a hard time?
The problem is not our barns. The problem is not our things. The problem is greed.
Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Greed is like a consuming fire. The more it burns, the more oxygen it takes form the air and the more fuel it burns. Greed suffocates relationships and destroys communities. Greed believes in scarcity, thrives on fear and turns people against one another.
Reading verses 17-19 carefully, the rich man uses the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ a total of ten times. He is neither grateful nor generous but consumed by his greed. He thinks about enjoying his life in the future at the expense of isolating himself now by his need for more. His wealth has become his identity ‘a rich man’ (notice – he has no other name), and it has led to being cut off from everyone else. In this story, the man has no relationships.
Jesus asks, “What good is all of this stuff if you were to die tonight?” (my paraphrase of Luke 12:20). Jesus could take a good look at us, and ask the same.
A parable like this asks us to reflect upon several questions:
- What is our relationship with our stuff? To what extent do we possess our things and how much do things possess us? How much is too much?
- How much have we made our lives about ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ rather than others?
- What things are you storing? Why? No really…Why? What are you saving it for?
- What could it mean to be ‘rich toward God’ (Luke 12:21)?
- How might the rich man – find redemption in this parable? How might we?
Remember – Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). For him (and his followers who are slow to catch-on) this is a one way journey. Jesus is going to the cross. He has been inviting people to join his selfless movement of restoration, love, hope and mercy who are willing to say goodbye to their attachments and responsibilities (Luke 9:57-62). He has been sending those who are willing to go out into the community to rely on the hospitality of others and face rejection (Luke 10:1-24). He has been expanding the people’s understanding of ‘neighbor’ to include both any person in need and anyone willing to help (Luke 10:25-37). He has opened himself to those who are willing to receive and follow him (Luke 10:38-42). On a one way journey to the cross Jesus has no need for more storage. Neither do his followers. His life is being demanded of him – right now. Their lives might be demanded of them soon too. With that reality in mind – what might this parable mean to we who are a lot more settled twenty centuries later?
Perhaps we are not as settled as we think we are.