I have always found this parable of Jesus, the parable of the Rich Farmer, profoundly challenging
When we were living in Tokyo, where our youngest Marina was born and I was working for the law firm, I used, if I got home early enough, to read her some Bible stories from this book by Nick Butterworth and Mike Inkpen called ‘Stories Jesus told’ which included this story of the Rich Farmer. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stories-Jesus-Told-Favourite-Bible/dp/1859855881/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=butterworth+and+inkpen&qid=1564905956&s=gateway&sr=8-1
Every time I asked her (aged probably about two) which story she would like me to read…..she would always say ‘The Rich Farmer, Daddy’. Every time I read it, I thought ‘it’s me that Jesus is talking about; I have more than I need; I am storing up in barns…’ and yet she kept on asking and asking…..
So this story challenges me and I guess it challenges many of us in the Itchen Valley.
You see what Jesus is saying does not sound terribly fair.
First of all, Jesus tells this story in response to a request that he arbitrate between two brothers over an inheritance. This is something that rabbis did from time to time in those days. It sounds very unfair that the one brother has not been able to inherit anything from the parent. Often elder brothers got a double share of the inheritance leaving the younger one with nothing…
But Jesus is not in the least interested in this financial dispute…….whatever the merits.
He says the damning words to the person he calls ‘Man’ ‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’.
Next week I am leading Fred Haslam’s thanksgiving service and funeral. One of the particular aspects of Fred’s character (and which will be mentioned in the tribute which his daughters will read) is that he felt that life was about who you are rather than what….to use his words, ‘you amass’.
I think most of us would agree with this, as a principle, but it’s how we apply it that’s the difficulty.
From one point of view, it is very unfair of Jesus to suggest that the farmer has made the wrong choice in building bigger barns so he can store all his abundant grain. After all, he has worked hard for this harvest! He will have tilled the fields and got them ready, perhaps taking years to do so; perhaps taking risks over the years and his hard work and risk taking has proved fruitful, there is an abundant harvest. So why should he not enjoy the fruits of his labour?
There are two points that Jesus is making:
First, the farmer has more than he needs. We can tell this because his existing barns are full…..and he is going to tear down the old barns and build new ones….
But despite the abundance of his harvest, way beyond his needs, he is showing absolutely no sign of sharing this abundance with those who do not have it. As Ian Paul, a theologian I follow writes, ‘the man considers neither God’s claims on his life and wealth, nor the needs of those around him, ignoring the consistent demand in the Scriptures that those blessed with wealth should be concerned for the needs of the poor.’
Around the time of Jesus, a farmer would have been expected to pay at least a tenth of what he has harvested to the Temple, to the church; no sign of that here…
And Deuteronomy 15 says ‘Give generously [to the needy]…be openhanded toward….the poor and needy in your land’
So, first, he has more than he needs and he has no plans to share that abundance with anyone else.
Second, what he plans to do.
He plans just to eat, drink and be merry, which is the Epicurean philosophy: that life is short and we might as well enjoy it while we can….
Jesus is effectively saying, ‘you have no idea how short! You are dying tonight, then who gets all your precious wealth?’
I think that this point that Jesus goes beyond just money and encompasses everything that we are blessed with, talents and perhaps most valuable of all in our modern age, time.
Some years ago, my law firm invited me to speak to some older partners about retirement and what they could do during their retirement.
I pointed to the wealth of talent that they had, their ability to organise, motivate and get things done and suggested that a useful thing to do in their retirement might be to look at the pages of a newspaper, find what wrongs of the world they were passionate about and go and fix them…! They did not invite me back!
You see, I believe that this parable is very challenging for those of us who have retired but also points to what a fantastic opportunity we have now that we have stopped working, to do things with our resources, with our talents, with our time.
We have this wonderful chance to change the world, to change peoples’ lives, rather than the very dull business of eating, drinking and being merry.
Some years ago Lucy and I went to New Zealand and went out on a yacht in the Bay of Islands with a chap who was a retired lawyer from the Cayman Islands. He was sailing every day on his yacht in one of the most beautiful places on earth. ‘What a beautiful place’ I said ‘Sailing every day, here what a way to live!’
‘I am so so bored’ he said ‘I never thought retirement would be like this!’
Is our life just going to be about recreation? Or the immense excitement of transforming someone’s else’s life?
So the question this parable poses for us is ‘how are we going to spend our time and use our talents now that we have retired?’
Are we going to get our hands dirty and help other people; get involved in changing the world, as so many people do in our parish: helping people in prison, looking after the lost on the streets of Winchester at night, aiding the homeless and the hungry, and helping people manage their debt, and working with other charities which help people in all sorts of different ways; and most important of all encouraging them to follow Jesus Christ?
Or are we going to eat, drink and be merry?
Because, as Fred Haslam would say life is about who you are and not about what you ‘amass’ because we never know when the Lord will say to us ‘This very night your life will be demanded from you’
Luke 12:13-21 The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 12:13–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.