The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.
And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” 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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.'”
But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.Luke 12: 16-21 (NKJV)
I’ve been thinking about this parable recently. One effect of this pandemic will be the destruction of some (many?) people’s accumulated wealth, whether due to the value of the dollar, changes in interest rates, share price falls, or just lost income.
We tend to think that all our hard work (when we do hard work) is to earn a reward for ourselves, so we can cash it in and have some well-earned rest – or partying – later. So it’s upsetting when wealth is destroyed; it seems that all our hard work going to waste!
This parable reminds us that, ultimately, our hard work never was going to yield much reward and we never were guaranteed a chance to enjoy it in this life. The lesson is not that we shouldn’t enjoy the fruit of our labour, but that it is ephemeral. It will never satisfy as a source of confidence and hope.
Unlike the man in the parable, when the Israelites wandered the wilderness they were not able to store their food—the Manna God provided would perish overnight (Genesis 16). This was a lesson in faith; God had proven that he was able to care for them, but could they trust him for it day-by-day? Could they trust him to the extent that there was no room at all for also trusting in themselves? Could they trust like wild birds, which never store food but are still fed every day?
It is tragic how many people suicide during economic downturns. Even in the great depression of the 1930s when many lived day-to-day, few people actually experienced deadly external conditions. Nevertheless about 40,000 Americans chose death rather than the conditions they were faced with.
Jesus gave this advice to a rich young ruler, “Go, sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and follow me”. He was advising voluntary loss of wealth, because this rich man really needed to reprioritise. Our wealth might effectively be given to the poor over the coming months whether we give it willingly or not (where do you think the government gets all its handouts from?) but it’s better to be a cheerful giver. Imagine if, all along, your hard work had been motivated by a desire to give more, rather than to receive more?
The only way to be cheerful about losing your wealth is if firstly, you can trust God for tomorrow’s Manna. To have faith in a God who provides, contentment with what he provides, and love for whoever we have opportunity to share his provisions with. And secondly, if your confidence is not bound to your physical circumstances.
As Jim Elliot said, “That man is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.”
If you turn to God with faith and repentance, he will give you that which you cannot lose, even through death. You will be “rich toward God” and that treasure will never disappear or be given to another, even the night your soul is required of you.