When is enough, enough?
In our culture of consumerism, with a booming stock market, a growing economy, low unemployment, and a higher standard of living than almost any place else in the world Jesus’s parable of the Rich Fool is quite frankly not one we want to wrestle with. It’s much easier to turn a blind eye to the teaching, and keep living as we are than to try to come to grips with the danger our culture presents us everyday with the encouragement for more. We often rationalize our pursuit of things with the thought that it’s simply the culture we live in. It’s not greed or covetousness. We just live in a culture in which we need more things to survive. Nicer cars. Bigger houses. New technology. Faster conveniences. We can’t be completely odd or out of touch. It’s just the culture we live in.
Still, we can’t read Jesus’s parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12 and not begin to wrestle with a very important question: when is enough, enough?
In Luke 12, Jesus uses a question from the crowd about dividing the inheritance to launch into this very important teaching. A rich landowner experienced a plentiful crop. Like all good business leaders, he tried to figure out the best way to use this bountiful crop to grow his business. He knows that simply dumping more grain into an already overly saturated market will only drive the price down. Instead, he decides to store some of the grain for a future year when the yield is low. This will allow for the availability of grain for those who need it during a drought year, and he will make money. It’s a win-win situation. Most of us would consider this landowner very wise. He’s found a way to maximize profit, grow his business, and still have surplus to provide in low years in a way that won’t raise the price of grain too much.
Yet Jesus calls him a fool. Life does not consist in the abundance of things. You Fool who are more concerned with your own gain than in seeking the Kingdom of God. You Fool who are focused on how much money you can make instead of considering the poor around you. You Fool, you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man. Jesus will go on to talk about not being anxious and not worrying; trying to remembering that if God takes care of the birds and the flowers, surely God will take care of you too, but the powerful message has already been made.
It’s powerful because it goes directly against what our culture teaches. It goes against what we learn in business school earning our MBA. It goes against common wisdom of storing up now to prepare for an uncertain future. It goes against a culture that is constantly encouraging us to buy more, better, and newer products. It goes against a culture that puts so much pressure on us to look a certain way, to live a certain way, and to be a certain way. Everyday, we are bombarded with messages through TV, billboards, radio, and the internet promising that the newest product available is the very thing we need to make our lives complete. We live in a culture of consumerism that often rewards more and better stuff. It is those with wealth that are considered successful. It is those with new things that are considered popular. To wrestle then with this parable is extremely difficult because Jesus calls us to a very UN-American type of life. It’s an un-capitalistic lifestyle. It’s calling us to go against every force of our culture, desire, and inner covetousness who sees what others have and desires it for ourselves.
Jesus is instead forcing us to address the question; when is enough, enough?
When will we be satisfied? When will we be content? When is it that our treasure will truly be where we desire our heart to be? As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, you can’t serve two masters: you can’t serve God and money.
Perhaps this struggle with more and better things is why God has always encouraged us as followers to give. To give generously. To start with a tithe, and then give more. As we become generous it helps us to overcome the forces of greed and covetousness. Giving challenges us to recognize that the things that we have do not belong to us, they are God’s. Giving helps us to place our focus on the Kingdom of God, and helps us to admit that we are secure not because of our things, but because of the saving power of Jesus Christ.
When is enough, enough?