April 1, 2016.
April fool’s day is a unique cultural experience where people on a national level participate in various practical jokes and hoaxes. There is just something satisfying about tricking someone with a fake article or false claim, only to see their face drop when they realize they have been fooled. Perhaps there is even unifying power (and disunifying, depending on who you happen to be in the process of the joke) in a day that is dedicated to this humor, or in banding together to carry out an elaborate hoax.
However, allow me to use the day to segway into a question that hits much deeper than our friendly humor on this day. Are we fools ourselves? Of course I don’t expect anyone to read that question and automatically answer ‘yes’. Yet, it could very well be that we have been fooled by the world and even by our own selves to have trust in uncertainty. Perhaps you already know where I’m going with this.
“Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying,“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself,‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Jesus tells this parable after a man asked him to divvy up the inheritance he and his brother had allotted to them. It seems that the man came to Jesus for this, thinking that he would have an authoritative claim to his stuff with a word from the wise teacher. However, Jesus responds in a curious way (at least, I’m assuming that it would have been curious to the man who asked the question). He tells him to take guard against covetousness. Jesus saw through this question into a heart issue. The man was putting his trust in the material blessings that he thought were rightfully his. He wanted his share, and his heart was set on getting it.
But then Jesus tells a parable about a rich fool. It is interesting to note here that the rich man in the story didn’t get his riches deceitfully. He obtained them through honest work as far as we can tell. Much like the man who asked the question, the material things were, in a sense, rightfully his. His problem didn’t lie in the gathering, but rather where he put his trust. The man saw the overflow of his harvest and put faith in the riches that he would gain from them. In his mind, money brought safety and security. He could eat, drink and be merry for many years. He was set.
But his money was useless in fighting death.
Let’s ask the question: what made this man a fool? Was it his hard work? Was it the actual physical blessings that he obtained? The context of the parable certainly gives the answer, but I believe Jesus puts it rather bluntly during the sermon on the mount.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The man was a fool because he put his trust in something that was completely insecure. He had faith in what was fleeting, what could be lost, stolen and/or destroyed. Aside from the spiritual implications of the story that we will look at in a bit, the man was a fool for a very practical reason. When you trust in something that is not trustworthy, it is inherently foolish.
Do we pretend that this is not the same today? I believe many of us, myself included, have fooled ourselves in this. Sure, some of us pay lip service to trusting in God and not our money, but when the issue is pressed, I believe that we all would see that we certainly believe that money brings security. It is woven into the very fabric of the American culture. We even have a phrase for extra money: a security blanket. We look back at the parable of the rich fool and say, “Oh yeah, of course you shouldn’t trust in uncertain riches,” but then we do the very thing we see as the clear problem. This is so deeply rooted in us that it is hard to recognize, and even harder to overcome. Yet money and possessions are so uncertain. We know this. Our house could catch on fire, the stock market could crash, we could unexpectedly lose our job, etc. These things and more happen often, and they happen to people just like you and me. Perhaps we have even personally experienced something like this. We can easily grasp that material possessions are fleeting and inherently unstable. But we trust in them anyway. Practically, we are so often the rich fool.
This goes deeper than the practical side of things for us, however. We see from the sermon on the mount that the man in the parable was also a spiritual fool. Jesus tells His listeners that wherever they put their treasure, their heart will be there too. There is something that goes beyond the practical foolishness of trusting in uncertain riches, and that is that our treasure, what we value, is where our heart will be. I’ve heard the expression, “Show me a man’s checkbook, and I’ll show you what he actually cares about.” (I realize that this will soon be a dated reference… so, if you don’t know what that means, hopefully the context clues will make it clear). We can pay lip service to anything we want. We can say we care about this or that. However, where our treasure goes, that’s a telltale sign of our actual values.
This is not something we like to hear. However, if we are trusting in money, we cannot be trusting in God. If our treasure is laid up in material possessions, then our hearts will be far from the Lord regardless of what our mouths say. Jesus speaks in terms of and teaches about money and possessions so often during His ministry. Perhaps this is because He knows the heart of man, and how we are prone to seeking riches. The persuit of wealth is often the roadblock that keeps us from Christ. Consider the story of the rich young man who came to the wise teacher.
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
This is likely a familiar story, but it is one that teaches a lesson that we so often forget. When the young man asks Jesus what he must do for eternal life, I believe he is completely sincere. He is obviously a religious man, one who upheld the law from his youth. I believe he caught a glimpse of the good news that Jesus was bringing and honestly wanted to know how to be a part of it. Even when he says he had kept the law, he still asks what he lacked. I’m not sure I would even say pride was an issue here, for he clearly was open to him not being perfect, and he was seeking to fix it. However, there was a roadblock that he would not be able to overcome. Jesus saw where his heart was- the man was rich. His riches were a stumbling block, because he put more faith in them than he did in God. Thus, Jesus’ answer was simple- get rid of the thing that is keeping you from loving God.
The rich young man could not let go of his possessions.
Again, we look at stories like this and say, “How awful that he could not give up the one thing that was keeping him from the kingdom of heaven!” Then we proceed to ignore or explain away the next statement of Jesus.
“And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
“Oh yes! How hard it would be to be rich and to still love God!” we say, looking to the ‘rich’ people who we secretly (or openly) envy. Yet we forget how truly rich we are. Sometimes I hear the outcries against the 1% in America. But here’s the irony. If you make just over $32,000 a year, you are (at least at the time of writing) literally in the top 1% of the world in terms of wealth. Even if you only make $18,000 a year, you are still in the top 5% of the world. Even if you are at the US poverty line ($11,800 for individuals), you are still within the top 15% of the richest people in the world.
Let that sink in. Here’s the thing. When we think about riches, hardly anyone will ever immediately think of themselves as rich. We will always look to someone who has more than us and point to them being rich. But we are rich. And Jesus said it was harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. His disciples didn’t react to this statement the way we do today. We say, “yeah, it is hard to be rich and go to heaven, and that’s why you have to be sure you know where your heart is.” No. His disciples took his statement pretty literally- they said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus was saying that it is impossible, at least in terms of man, for a rich man to enter heaven. Impossible. A camel cannot go through the eye of a needle (yes, I know there is some thought that this was a cultural expression about a passage called the eye of a needle that camels had to go through, but I don’t think this is what Jesus was talking about due to the response of the disciples and His own answer to their response). Jesus did say with man, this is impossible. But, fortunately for us, with God, all things are possible.
Though it is possible through God, we must not miss the entire point that Jesus is making here. Impossible, no. Extremely hard, yes. And I mean extremely hard. I don’t think Jesus would have said what He did if it wasn’t. Thus, we need to take a very open and honest look at ourselves and see where our trust lies. Ask yourself some questions, questions that you might not like to answer. If you lost your job today, would you be worried? Would you trust that God would provide for you? If you didn’t have a savings account as a ‘security blanket’, how would that change your perspective for your future? Does your 401k serve in the place of God as your trust? Do any savings for that matter earn your trust in the place that God should only sit? Do you have a hard time giving away money to people who need it? Do you give your money to the work of the gospel?
Where does your trust lie? Have you laid up treasures in heaven?
These questions and more are the ones we should be asking if we want to know if we are the rich fool. The rich fool saw that he had much, and took security in the uncertainty of riches. That ancient fool really isn’t so ancient. He is with us today. He often is us today. So, the question remains.
Are you the ancient fool?
Suggested Reading: Matthew 6, 19, Luke 12.
Lay up treasures in heaven.