The rich man of Luke 12 is a character I can’t escape. The lessons Jesus raises with him are many. I’ve dealt with him extensively in The Perils of Covetousness. Here is another facet of his story. Let’s name him Yaphet.
In summary, Jesus presents a thesis that life doesn’t consist in material possessions (v. 15) and proceeds to depict Yaphet, a successful farmer who apparently yields so regularly an abundant crop that he runs out of room to store it. Yaphet demolishes his old facilities and erects new, larger ones for his ever-expanding enterprise.
Pondering and assuming the success of his expansion project, he calculates a surplus spanning years and looks to a time of repose and perhaps retirement: “And I’ll say to myself…’Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
Suddenly, however, Yaphet dies and we hear God call him stupid—”You fool!” Jesus never condemns Yaphet’s wealth for any reason, but castigates him for living with every financial security and comfort only to die spiritually bankrupt.
In verse 21 Jesus declares, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
I believe that God blesses us with things, opportunities, and privileges. Also, I have no problem with the seminal idea underlying the American Dream, barring the increasing materialistic focus. It is indeed the hope of people everywhere.
Yet one thing I hear in Jesus’s words and his criticism of Yaphet is how his prosperity and possessions were of no value to anyone else, and that’s important.
Jesus conveys to us how covetousness caused Yaphet to live only for himself. Despite owning so much that just a small portion could generously aid others, he never feeds the hungry with the food he grows; he never helps the underprivileged and disenfranchised; he never gives to charity. Instead, it’s all about the money and we perceive an egotistical, greedy man.
The danger of things possessing us—and it occurs ever so slowly—is that it will make us feel superior to others. Although it’s the 21st century, most of us don’t live so far removed generationally from when we or our parents possessed little. So if perchance we do own substantially more today, it should make us mindful of how things once were.
The worth of our abundance, no matter how small it is, is the empathy that drives us to understand those with less and that compels us to reach out and help. It’s what was missing from Yaphet’s heart. Such empathy will cause our possessions to serve a higher, righteous purpose.