Jesus told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“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?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Sidney is an expert on the Civil War. Ever since junior high school he has been fascinated by those four years of American history, and it has been his lifelong passion to read about it, study it, and become completely absorbed in the spirit of that period of time. His career was teaching Civil War History in college, and now, in his retirement, he spends every vacation traveling around the country to Civil War battlefields. He loves to spend hours walking the old battle grounds, imagining, and reliving in his mind all what happened there. There is so much he knows.
Sidney knows all about not only the events of the war, but also all about the political background of the conflict, and the personalities of all the major players, and the long term repercussions of everything related to that war. He can tell you about General Lee’s hesitation to fight for the South, he can tell you about President Lincoln’s frustration in finding a capable general, and about the weaknesses and failures of each one until the great General Grant finally took over. Sidney can tell you about Abraham Lincoln’s faith, which was tested and then deepened by the war that took up almost his entire presidency. He can tell you about dishonest contractors that cheated the government out of millions of dollars, while the army had a hard time supplying the union soldiers with blankets. He can tell you about the terrible conditions of the prisoners of war kept in overcrowded camps, and how soldiers had a better chance of surviving the fiercest battles than making it to the end of the war in some of those camps.
Sidney knows more than almost anyone about the Civil War, but like anyone else, Sidney does not know everything about everything. He knows how to drive a car, but don’t ask him to check the oil. He can buy a can of soup and put it in the microwave, but he can’t cook much else. He had children and now he has grandchildren, but he still doesn’t know how to change a diaper. Not everyone can be an expert in every area, and Sidney has made his choices. He has chosen to focus all his energy and attention on acquiring knowledge of the Civil War. His knowledge of the war is impressive, but he is lacking in some other areas and attributes.
We all have our areas of expertise, and there are those many other things of which we are quite ignorant. What Jesus is saying in this parable from Luke 12 is don’t be a fool and be ignorant about God and your eternal soul. “There is one thing needed,” said Jesus to the busy Martha and her sister Mary two chapters earlier, and whatever your interests and skills and obligations, you must not ignore that one thing that is needed above all other things. Only God is worthy of our fullest devotion. Money, pleasure, prestige, career, hobbies, travel, or Civil War knowledge are all things that can consume our fullest devotion and dedication. While there is nothing wrong with giving those kinds of things some attention, we must not be a fool like the man in the parable and pay no attention to the God who created us.
Sidney knows all about the Civil War, but not much about anything else, including God. In Luke 12:21 Jesus points out our need to be concerned about eternal things, being ‘rich toward God’ as he puts it there. We all need a place to live, and we put considerable time and money into providing a home for ourselves. It would only seem reasonable that we should be concerned also about our eternal dwelling. Our lives here will be over in a very short time, and we will then be in our next home (whatever that might be), and we will be there for all the rest of time. It would only make sense that we would want to know something about that next destination, and make any necessary preparations for it.
The Bible has a great deal to say about all this, but Sidney has had very little time for the Bible. He could tell you how the Bible was quoted during the Civil War by both the North and the South, both in defense of and in opposition to slavery. But as for what the Bible says about his own eternal soul, Sidney could tell you very little.
If you asked Sidney if there is life after death, he would say, “Yes, I think so; that seems to be a commonly held belief.” But if asked whether or not such a belief was reasonable, scientifically speaking, he would be hard pressed to say anything definite. If you asked him whether or not he believed Jesus really rose from the dead, he would say, “Yes, I know the Bible says he did, but I never really looked into it for myself.” If you asked him what Jesus said about eternal life and about heaven and how to get there, he would quickly admit that he doesn’t know what Jesus said about any of that. At this point, he may wonder why the questions are all only about Jesus, and he might say that all religions talk about heaven, and they all seem to believe in that same thing, and so there must be something to it. But he would be quite incorrect about that. The various religions of the world say very different things about what happens after you die– but Sidney would be very uninformed about any of that. Finally, if asked what will happen to him after he dies, Sidney would be honest enough to admit that he does not really know, nor does he have any strong beliefs on the subject.
Sidney is an imaginary person I invented to illustrate the approach that many people take to this whole subject. Countless surveys of people’s beliefs show that most people believe in some kind of life after death, but many will readily admit to being completely ignorant of reasons for that belief and what that might mean. They might have some vague beliefs, picked up here and there from a variety of sources, mostly unreliable, oftentimes from people as uniformed as themselves. Yet, these same people will take great pains to know all there is to know about other matters that are mere trifles by comparison.
Why would someone not want to know all about a matter of such eternal personal consequences, and instead be content to know all about the Civil War, or the Minnesota Vikings, or NASCAR racing, or house decorating, or gardening, or, as the man in Jesus’ parable, making money? All of that might be useful, enjoyable, and even necessary knowledge, but it all is useful only for a little while, and must not be pursued to the exclusion of what one needs to know for eternity.
Sidney would tell you that his interest in the Civil War has given him a full and interesting life, but according to this parable, God would consider him a fool. Sidney has achieved much for himself, but he is certainly not rich towards God. In fact, he clearly pays no attention to God. This neglect of God is typical, and many people live their whole life with that same foolish and careless indifference to that which is most important.
Many Bible verses tell us what God has done for us. This parable of Jesus tells us something that we need to do in response. We need to pay attention enough to know what God says about something so vital to our own interests. God said to the man in the parable,“This very night your life will be required of you.” One day God will say that to Sidney, and, to you– and what then? God then said to the rich man, “You fool.” What will God say to you? Have you been indifferent, uninterested, and careless? If you do not want anything to do with God, God will, when that time comes, let you have your way, and you will enter eternity without Him, and without hope.
As Jesus said so clearly and simply in Mark 4:9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”
Luke 10:38-42 — Now it came to pass, as they went, that Jesus entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Grant to us, O Lord, to know that which is worth knowing, to love that which is worth loving, to praise that which pleases you most, to esteem that which is most precious to you, and to dislike whatsoever is evil in your eyes; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
–Thomas a Kempis (15th century)