The Rev. Robert J. Boulter: “The Parable of the Rich Fool”
Since I’m going to talk about greed, and money, and getting our
priorities straight, I thought it would be a good idea to do a little
more singing first.
That parable we just heard drives home a message that we all need to
hear, and hear well. Our life and our work should not be focused on
gaining possessions. Jesus is all too clear on this—we need to avoid
greed and instead we need to be rich towards God.
I work in the Worship Department here at the Cathedral and I help to
plan our worship services. And I’ve noticed the over arching theme of
the readings this summer is discipleship.
To be a disciple one needs to learn to pray—we heard about that
last week. To be a disciple one needs to learn to care for others—as
in the parable of the Good Samaritan—which we heard a few weeks back,
and to be a disciple we need to learn to care for ourselves—avoiding
traps like greed and self-centeredness.
God has given us a finite amount of time on this earth and we
need to use that time responsibly. Being responsible with our lives
means that we need to maintain a balance between caring for our own
needs and caring for others.
Now… I think it is easier to fall into self-centered behavior
when we are living an unbalanced life. When we get to a place where we
are consumed by one thing—whatever it is—we throw our lives out of
balance. We get a warped sense of the world and our priorities.
So there is clear biblical warrant to live a balanced life. So how
do we do that? The first thing to do is to take stock of how we are
living now—which is not an easy task. For one thing we aren’t always
as honest with ourselves as we should be about what we do with our
time and our resources.
Have you ever analyzed your spending habits? Several years ago, when
my wife and I started using a computer software program to organize
our checkbook, we were astounded to see where we actually spent our
For one thing, we discovered that, at that time, we spent more money
on cable TV than we did donating to charity. That’s one example of why
it’s important to know how we spend our money, because it indicates how
we actually prioritize our lives. It is a measuring stick to see if we
actually live as we hope to. “For where your treasure is, there your
heart will be also.”
It is much harder to keep track of our time. Some of us may be
required to complete a time sheet for work, but most of us probably have
very little idea how we actually spend our time. It is a good exercise
to track your time for a short period, perhaps just for a week, and
reflect on what you see. You may learn that your time is divided up
into several categories:
- time at work or caring for a home
- time with family and friends
- time in recreation—leisure time for hobbies, reading or traveling
- time for self development—exercise, or education
- time for community service
- and, I hope, time for prayer and worship
I think many of us would learn from that exercise that we spend far
too little time doing the things which we enjoy. The burden of earning
money to support a family, or pay a mortgage, seems to outweigh the need
to care for ourselves, and take time for recreation and rest. But this
is what knocks our lives out of balance. We need to pay attention to the
things we enjoy doing, the things we have passion for, the things that
are fulfilling, because they give us a clue to the things God wants us
to do with our lives. And God wants us to enjoy life, not get worn down
It’s the summer time, so many of you may be taking vacation right
now. I just returned from my own time away. I was surprised at how
long it took me to relax into a vacation schedule—by the second day of
my vacation I needed to take my watch off and leave it on the bedside table
so I’d stop looking at it and wondering what I was missing here: it’s
noon—time for the noonday service in the Great Choir—it’s 2:00
they’re meeting to talk about next Sunday’s service—I wonder who is
With our current technology even getting away doesn’t help because we
are tethered to our cell phones and PDAs and e-mail. I know some of you
may not want to hear this, but life at the office will go on without
you. As a matter of fact you may be creating an opportunity for someone
else to broaden their experience. Sometimes we get an overly inflated
sense of our own importance. This kind of behavior leads to what Jesus
talks about in the parable today—the parable of the Rich Fool.
Jesus tells this parable because he has been asked to mediate a
dispute between two brothers concerning an inheritance. I don’t blame
Jesus for wanting to stay out of the middle of that kind of argument.
Jesus makes the determination that the question stems from an issue of
greed. We don’t know which one of the brothers is being greedy about
this inheritance, maybe they both share some fault.
But Jesus doesn’t get involved in the dispute, instead he tells a
story of a man who has been very fortunate. He has produced such a
good harvest that he doesn’t have room enough to store everything. His
first inclination is to build larger store houses—notice that he
doesn’t think about giving his excess to others who may be less
He speaks in reverie about finally, after many years of hard work,
being able to rest and relax and enjoy life. This sounds like the
retirement dream that many of us talk about, isn’t it. But this is not
to be; Jesus says that God arrives on the scene and demands the man’s
It is all too true that sometimes it takes a tragedy to wake us up
and help us understand what is important in life. Sometimes it takes a
heart attack to get us to slow down and spend more time with family.
Think about the people involved in the bridge collapse in Minnesota.
Sometimes it takes a terrible accident to remind us that our possessions
just aren’t important.
There was a story a few years ago about a man who lost everything
in a fire. He was interviewed by a TV reporter and he said that
ironically he had recently talked with his brother about how they should
be careful not to let their possessions possess them. This man, who was
standing in front of the charred and smoking remains of everything he
had owned, announced to that reporter with a note of unexpected triumph:
“I am a free man now!”
If we aren’t careful our possessions may possess us. Sometimes
we search for happiness by accumulating things—but happiness comes
through finding rewarding work, building healthy relationships, and
contributing to society. The thing that gives us happiness and
satisfaction in life is not how many toys we acquire before we die, but
rather how many lives we can touch in a positive way. This is how we
can be rich towards God. This is what Jesus is talking about in the
Think of Jesus’ short life. His active ministry was a little more
than three years long and he changed the course of history. He and his
followers didn’t worry too much about where to live and how to
survive; they were supported by generous people that they encountered along
the way. We can be those generous people, and we can be disciples of Jesus.