When I read the parable of the rich fool, I cannot help but think of Howard Hughes [Younger people might think of Bill Gates]. I do not know that he was a fool, but I do know that he was rich. I also know, from some of the reports that went out at the time of his death, that while he had accumulated a great deal of wealth, he did not enjoy any of it in his last days, perhaps his last years. In this sense, Howard Hughes is a present day example of that against which Jesus was warning us in our text.
The danger of thinking of a man like Howard Hughes as I read this text is that this implies that the text applies primarily, perhaps exclusively to the rich. To put the matter more pointedly, thinking of the rich fool in this text as Howard Hughes enables me not to think of myself as a “rich fool.” (Greed: The Affliction of the Affluent)
The request is found in verse 13.
NKJ Luke 12:13 Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
The response of Jesus is found in verses 14-15.
NKJ Luke 12:14 But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?”
NKJ John 5:22-27 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.
NKJ Luke 12:15 And He said to them [“the crowd,” vs. 13, thus the man asking the question along with the others present, possibly including the man’s brother], “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
It isn’t that Jesus is unconcerned about justice; but that He is all too aware that this man’s covetousness will do him more harm than not having his share of the inheritance.
i. We may fight and fight for what is ours by right; and in the end, having it may do us worse than if we had let it go and let God take care of the situation.
ii. Here is where the deceptive nature of the heart is such a challenge. We often mask our covetousness by claiming we are on a righteous crusade. (Commentary on Luke, e-Sword)
NKJ Luke 12:16 Then He spoke a parable to them [again “the crowd,” vs. 13; an “innumerable multitude,” vs. 1], saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.”
NKJ Deuteronomy 8:7-17 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12 lest – when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14 when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; 15 who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end – 17 then you say in your heart, “My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.”
NKJ Luke 12:17 And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?”
NKJ Luke 12:18-19 So he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul [ψυχή], ‘Soul [ψυχή], you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’”
NKJ Luke 12:20 But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul [ψυχή, or life, as in the NIV] will be required [ἀπαιτέω] of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”
NKJ Luke 12:21 So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
NKJ 1 Timothy 6:6-12, 17-19 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. [How are we to be rich toward God and fight against the danger of earthly riches? Well, we are to seek in their place the spiritual riches of fruit of the Holy Spirit, and we are to focus on loving relationships with people, whom we are to value more than things. And this all because we value God’s will more that our own. But Paul isn’t finished, for he goes on to say in verses 17-19 …] 17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. [But how are we to “enjoy” all the things He has given us? The answer comes in the next verse …] 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”