16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18“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. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ 20“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?’
It is perhaps significant that Jesus said it was the ground of the farmer that produced the abundance – not the hard labour of the one who worked it. It was a once-off, surprising, gracious act of the soil, so to speak, and one that the man had never expected and was wildly unprepared for.
How do I know, well, he didn’t have sufficient space to store the crop. His decision is to tear down his existing barns, which presumably had served his farm well over many seasons, and to gear up for abundance next year by building bigger ones.
I’m intrigued at how this farmer from so long ago sounds so familiar. When faced with abundance the like of which he had never before known, his first three words in reaction are ‘I have no..’ – he is only conscious of what he lacks.
And he sets about organising his life and his business as if this one-time, unmerited abundance would be there next year again.
The thing is, if, for the first time, we had heard someone tell this story in 2005, before the collapse of our financial system, everything the farmer did would have looked like sound economic activity. So like the crowd listening to Jesus, we would have been shocked to hear him describe the farmer as a fool.
Jesus however, offers another way of moving through this world of alternating abundance and lack.
He says, you and I are more than the sum of our possessions. He says, in effect, that not having some thing does not make us any less a valuable human being, and that maybe having that thing, and more of the same, may in fact make us less human, turning us into little more than units of consumption who are constantly anxious about what we don’t have.
So don’t worry about those things, he says.
From a BBC Radio Ulster Broadcast Service