And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And 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 all my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:16-21
Begin with the first sentence. Begin with what is verbed in the first sentence. It is “the land” which is the first actor in this parable. It is “the land” that brings forth fruit. The rich man merely receives what “the land” brings forth.
The rich man does not consider that the land was there before him. The rich man considers only himself, talks only to himself, plans only for himself, and lives only for himself. Note the monotonous possessive pronoun – my crops, my barns, all my grain, all my goods and finally my soul.
The rich man thinks himself a completely autonomous, self-made individual, owing nothing to the land, family, community, or even God. He is supreme monarch of all he surveys. He is captain of his own soul.
If it were not for the first sentence, if we looked at things only through the rich man’s eyes, we would undoubtedly admire his efforts. We would commend his plans for his future. We live in a country that heedlessly praises the self-made individual. We live in a fallen world with the Old Adam hanging around our necks.
With the first sentence our Lord pulls us back. Our Lord would have us see our life and all our possessions as they are in God’s eyes. The Lord gives the land and seed to the sower, the first rains and the latter rains. The Lord gives us life and places us in families and communities. The Lord calls upon us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The rich man loves only himself, plans only for himself, and hoards what he has been blessed with for only himself.
This is a parable of our Lord. It is not a political treatise. The parable is not in the least way a promotion of Socialism or a condemnation of Capitalism. It would be wrong to think the parable condemns private property.
The Gospel is more radical than any political or economic philosophy. The Gospel does not call for revolution or seek to upend the way men attempt to organize life in this fallen world. The Gospel cuts to the hearts of men and gives them eyes of faith by which they are to view their lives and all they possess.
The rich man is condemned not because he is rich, or because he is prosperous, or even because he makes plans for the future. The rich man is condemned because he is ungrateful for the land, ungrateful for the fruit it produces, ungrateful for the community he lives in, and most of all, ungrateful for the life given to him. All these are from the Lord.
The rich man’s ingratitude is born of nothing less than idolatry. He is the only thing that matters to him. He worships himself.
Now one must be careful not to abuse this parable and make it into a political tract of some kind. On the other hand, one must not ignore the application of this parable to Christians living in these times. It would be negligent, in particular, to ignore the explicitly anti-Christian political philosophy to which this parable applies.
Ayn Rand would have hated this parable. The individualism that she espoused is the individualism of the rich man in this parable. Rand’s individual lives only for himself. The poison of Rand’s individualism has infected our public life through her latter-day disciples, Paul Ryan, Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and a number of other radical Republicans.
One does not have to probe the pronouncements of the radical Republicans to see that in much of what is said there is a lack of gratitude for the work of the laborer, an idolatrous affection for the rich, and a disregard for the neighbor who is in need. Supporting all of this is the myth of the self-made individual.
We do not live in a Christian country. We live in a country that has always tolerated Christianity. We live in a country that allows the preaching of the Gospel. For this, thanks be to God. It is incumbent upon preachers to preach that radical Gospel in all its truth and purity. Such preaching should invoke gratitude for all the Lord’s blessings on this land. It should also renounce idolatry in all its forms – including Randian individualism.
One can only pray that politically conservative pastors are strengthened to be faithful to their calling.