Sun, Jul 31, 2022

What we leave for posterity

Duration:11 mins 47 secs


It’s been one of the biggest political issues of recent times.

There have been the fears about Muslim terrorists––

in the wake of September Eleven––

which have, sadly, influenced the heartless and inhumane policies towards asylum seekers…

from both sides of politics…

in a way that would have been unthinkable when I was young;

certainly when Malcolm Fraser was prime minister…

and he called upon us to welcome and embrace the Vietnamese boat-people.

And now there is no shortage of commentators––

and politicians––

continually stoking fears about China…

and their increased activity in the Pacific…

not least in the Solomon Islands.

We have seen the encroachment of our civil liberties…

through a raft of so-called anti-terror legislation.

And let’s not forget the legislation that empowers Border Force officers… 

allowing them to demand your smart-phone’s password.

As a community we value security––

we yearn for security––

but at what cost?


In a sense… 

that’s what this morning’s story from Luke’s Gospel is about––


On the surface, it’s the story of a man who seeks security for his future and that of his family.

But, for some reason, it all goes horribly wrong.

Before he gets to enjoy what he has achieved, he dies.

And yet, in the story, the man is called “a fool”.

But why?

What did he actually do that was so foolish?

What did he do for which the author seems to suggest that he warranted punishment?


Some have suggested that the problem here is that he hasn’t trusted God for his future.

‘Ask and it will be given to you’.

‘Seek and you will find’.

And all that stuff about ‘God clothing lilies or feeding birds’.

And yet, in reality, that’s just pious twaddle.

That’s not how it works in the real world.

We all know that.

We do need to be careful…

we do need to make plans for the future…

we do need to look after our family’s financial security…

or else we’re just being irresponsible––

and we’re simply throwing the burden back onto others.


So, maybe the problem here is that he’s left God out of the equation altogether.

After all, in his deliberations, he makes no recourse to God.

Faith doesn’t seem to be a motivating factor…

nor does morality.

Then again, he doesn’t ask for anyone else’s advice either.

He only talks to himself. 

So, perhaps the problem is that he’s acting as if he doesn’t need to worry about anyone else;

he’s acting as if he doesn’t need to worry about how his plans will affect others. 

In a way, that’s partly right…

but it’s not the whole story.

To understand what the author was trying to say by means of this parable…

we need to understand it both within its literary context…

and within the socio-economic context of the first-century world


First of all, note, this parable is set in the context of a disputed will.

Two brothers are haggling over their father’s estate.

And the parable is intended as a response to that

But note, also, the farmer in this story isn’t just any old farmer.

He’s a rich farmer. 

He’s a wealthy landowner in a small village. 

He’s so wealthy that he can afford to pull down his barns and rebuild them––

which he has to do because he’s had a “bumper crop”…

more than he expected and more than he can manage.

Now, that still seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

It still seems sensible.

And yet… 

it wasn’t in the world of the New Testament.

Back then, rich people were despised.

The accumulation of goods was seen as robbery…

because all goods were thought to be in fixed and finite supply.

So, if someone’s piece of the pie got bigger…

then someone else’s piece had to get smaller.

Anyone who was rich was regarded as immoral––

no better than a thief or a robber––

unless they gave back to the community.

They were only respected if they were generous benefactors––

if they used what they acquired to help others.

But the rich farmer in this parable gives nothing back.

Indeed, he deliberately holds back all of his excess. 

And he doesn’t hold it back for his own personal use.

Rather, he builds bigger barns so that he could store it for a time when there was a famine;

when peasants–– 

who basically consumed what they produced–– 

didn’t have enough;

when grain would be in short supply;

and when he could sell it for a grossly inflated price.

In short, his plan was about maximising his profit.

It was about ensuring long-term prosperity for himself and for his descendants––

but at what cost?

It’s not that his plan disregarded the plight of the poor.

It’s not that he hadn’t considered the impact on others.

Quite the opposite. 

His plan was specifically aimed at exploiting the poor.

He was striving to achieve security, comfort, and prosperity at their expense.

But, he could have used that prosperity to help. 

He could have given the excess to those who were needy.

Or, he could have planned to sell the grain at a subsidised rate during a shortage––

thereby earning the goodwill of all––

rather than extorting massive profits at the expense of the desperate and needy.

He had a number of choices…

but he chose to be greedy and exploitative.

He chose to look after himself.


In the parable… 

the author claims that the man is a fool in God’s eyes…

because security achieved at the expense of others is false security;

because greed only perpetuates more greed.

And, ironically, the man’s estate would have been left to his children…

who would only have argued over it…

following the wonderful example that he had set of greed…

and manipulation…

and exploitation.

And that’s also why he’s a fool.

Furthermore, as the author of Luke’s Gospel is prone to point out… 

greed and self-interest are contrary to the very nature of God––

the God who generously… 



and empathetically entered our human existence…

so that we might discover what it means to be authentically human.


This parable, then, isn’t about planning for the future.

It’s about the way that we seek security.

It’s challenging us to see that security achieved at the expense of others is no security at all.

Now, for us, today, that might mean: 

not allowing our government to enact laws… 

that deprive people of basic human rights in the name of national security…

or in the name of border security;

it might mean not buying cheap clothes from manufacturers who exploit the poor of the third world…

and who rely upon sweat-shop labour;

not buying cheap tea, coffee, or chocolate from large multi-national companies––

who pay a pittance to their growers and pickers––

but, instead, choosing to buy FairTrade products.

And it’s a challenge to all of us––

who live in this heavily industrialised country…

that is one of the world’s worst at producing greenhouse gases and polluting the environment––

it’s a challenge to ensure that our prosperity isn’t secured at the expense of generations to come.

Or else, like the man in the parable…

we may prove ourselves to be––

in the eyes of God and posterity–– 

nothing but fools.

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