The Foolish Rich Man
My husband and I are both math nerds. What can I say? We’re both engineers who like to analyze hard data to really figure out pretty much everything. Looking over a spreadsheet of our finances (even if they’re admittedly dismal at times) is something that we consider excellent bonding time together, where we can look at numbers and dream about our future together.
…yes, I know. We’re weird.
However! Like anything, you can take some things too far. For instance, if planning for the future takes precedence to living in the moment which we are given, then something is horribly wrong. Each moment is a gift from God, and we must not squander the little time we have on this Earth by focusing solely on events of the future — which may not come to pass anyway!
And so! As you can probably guess, the reading about the Rich Fool is a lovely reminder for us that there is more to life than money.
Here’s the story:
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” 14He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” 15Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”16Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 17He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ 18And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods 19 and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ 21Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
And! Guess who illustrated this particular parable??
If you guessed Rembrandt, you would be correct!
Rembrandt illustrated this parable for the time that he lived in! That is, the rich man that is portrayed looks very much like the stereotypical rich man back in the 17th century, which Rembrandt lived in. And so, there’s a lot of little details to remind the 17th century viewer of the richness of the man.
And so, the rich man calculating the barns would be consulting paper tomes of information that would be available in the 17th century for those who were very rich. Also, the clothes that the rich man is wearing — look at the deep blue hues of his hat and robes! — would be extremely rich attire for his age. After all, blue was an expensive dye back then. Also, the fact that he had the time that he could sit around by candlelight and calculate all the necessary numbers is yet another indication of how wealthy he is.
And so, when you look at this painting, you have to realize that this is extreme wealth that Rembrandt depicted. Were we to update this painting for our own times, more than likely we would instead choose to depict a Wall Street tycoon in full business attire with computer screens and phones all around him in his effort to fully calculate how he would build his next empire.
Yet, there are other details that indicate the frailty of this man. While there are magnifying devices around him, which is yet another symbol of how rich he is, it also indicates that his eyes are failing him. Indeed, his eyes seem foggy and his eyeglasses hint that his vision is starting to go. Also, his whole face seems to be sunken in. There is something wrong going on in his body, even though he is at the height of his wealth, and his whole body seems to be on the brink of collapse.
We learn from the parable that this is the last night of this man’s life. How sad to die, surrounded by papers and calculations, instead of being surrounded by those that he had loved!
Yes, I might be a huge math nerd, but at the end of my life, I would rather be with the people that I have loved and who have loved me, than be alone with only spreadsheets around me.
And, even if that were not possible, I would rather be with God than any of those things.
There is so much more to life than simply chasing after wealth! And to simply use our lives as a way to pursue wealth, while ignoring everything else, would indeed be foolish.
Yet, we can all be the foolish rich man at times. In this day and age, where we are constantly looking forward to the next paycheck and the next big purchase, it can be tempting to get distracted from what really matters in our lives… the relationships that we make. And yes, that includes not only the relationships that we make with others, but also developing our relationship with the Lord.
Or, as another gospel reading puts more succinctly:
36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
And so, as we meditate on this gospel, may we strive to use the precious time that we have to fully love our neighbor and the Lord!