“You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.”
This week’s gospel in the RCL is Luke 12:13-21. It deals with Jesus preaching to this crowd of thousands and he is describing how radical the Kingdom of GOD looks compared with the world we live in. It is a pretty profound message in itself. But this strange thing happens in the middle of this. He has just taken a moment to speak to his disciples specifically, and turns back to the crowd and one guy stands up, demanding Jesus help him with a dispute. Jesus says no and goes back to teaching. But he takes advantage of the situation, telling a parable about a greedy farmer that GOD calls a fool.
This pericope itself is interesting to me for many reasons, but I am interested in this character: this random guy that makes this obscene demand of Jesus who then receives a theological knockout.
I have just been going through 1 and 2 Kings, and this morning read a passage (2Kings 4) in which a demand is made of the prophet Elisha and he drops everything to do it. It seems as if there may be some cultural understanding that a prophet will do what you demand of him, assuming the demand is worthy. This should give us the clue that the demand is not worthy.
The second thing that I notice is that if Jesus is comparing this guy to the fool in the parable, then we should recognize what a fool is. If one is called a fool, one is not being called stupid or naïve: it does not mean a lack of intelligence or even a lack of certain kinds of wisdom. It means that you are acting out of your ignorance.
We know that sometimes being a fool is good. Paul encourages us to be fools for GOD. The characters of the fools in Shakespeare’s plays tend to be the only ones that truly know what’s going on. These are positive iterations of the fool, and I think they help us truly understand the danger this man represents to Jesus’s ministry.
This fool is wise in the workings of the world, and perhaps even the workings of the church. He is trying to take advantage of both to achieve some sense of fairness:
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
He is no idiot. And yet he fails to recognize his place or the very nature of what Jesus is in the middle of saying. That is why he is a fool.
Jesus tells the crowd:
“for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
There are many fools. And to some degree, we are all fools. We are all that guy that stands up authoritatively, missing the context of Jesus’s prophecy. And yet Jesus continues to try and remind us that it isn’t about the stuff. It isn’t about the material possessions. It isn’t even about the life we think we are leading in our world. It is about where our love and devotion goes. In this pericope, he’s discussing abundance and the blessings GOD gives us, but in the wider context, he’s talking about the very structure of our society.
As long as our mind is on the stuff: money, laws, advancement, neighbors’ stuff, etc.: it is off target. When we instead focus on GOD and GOD’s reflections, then all of that stuff falls into line and our outward expressions are righteous.