instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rich for God

In a comment below, Goodform brought up the parable that was proclaimed on Monday:
"There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?'

And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!"

But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?'

Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God."
As Goodform observes of the rich man:
He should have given to God and the poor which is what I thought the "rich towards God" comment meant.
Before Monday, this parable always struck me as particularly harsh. That "Aφρων!," "You fool!," sounded like God was saying, "Oh, yeah? You think you're all that? ZOT! How do you like them apples?"

But vindictiveness is likely just something I was bringing to the reading, not something intended by Jesus. The rich man's life will be demanded of him that night, not in retribution for his selfishness (note how immediately we go from the harvest being the land's to it being the rich man's), but because, well, his number was up. The "fool" wasn't an insult added to injury, but an impassioned statement of truth.

Whether he kept the harvest or gave it away, whether he died that night or after years of merry-making, the material things he prepared didn't belong to him in any enduring sense. Even from a perspective of mere enlightened self-interest, rich men who hoard their wealth are fools.

In the parable, then, God is perhaps saying, "Oh, no! What a pinheaded thing you've done!," rather than, "Ha! What'cha gonna do now, Mr. Smartypants?" Maybe it's not so much God as Judge (much less Executioner), with its adversarial and condemnatory overtones, as God as Honest Appraiser.

UPDATE: Steven Riddle suggests an even more compassionate reading! Note that God speaks to the rich man before his death. Plenty of time for an act of contrition, maybe even some acts of reparation.