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The parable of the rich fool

July 14, 2019 - Sunday 4:07 AM by JD Vergara

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Last night at a dinner party, I had a good conversation with a dear friend about capitalism. He leans towards it not for its promise of wealth but for its alignment with the full expression of human freedom. We have a lot of agreement on this topic and I even mentioned Anton Kreil, a highly successful British securities trader who said that capitalism, for all its imperfections, is the best economic model humans have created and there is no alternative to this. And I personally would agree on account of human free will, but I would want to highlight capitalism’s so called “imperfections.”

If there’s one imperfection that capitalism has that sums up all its defects, that would Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” who piped in the now most quoted line: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." For me, this is the single most vicious “defect” of capitalism. Business Dictionary calls it “a selfish want for something beyond one's need.” Because enormous wealth, and along with it, power, are indeed possible under capitalism, the latter has paved the way for cold-hearted individuals who introduced market monopolies, oil cartels, inside trading, and a host of other negative things that bred the ills in our modern societies today.

This reminded me of Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool. He told of a certain rich man whose agricultural field had yielded an abundant harvest. Because of this enormous surplus, this rich man suddenly had a logistical problem of where to store his goods. He said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.” Nothing wrong had been committed so far up to this point. After all, where did the good harvest come from if not from the mercy and generosity of God? It is the next statement which this rich man had said that earned him the notorious title, “rich fool.”

He said to himself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” God then said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Jesus then summed up this parable with these words: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Being rich per se is not condemnable; it is storing things solely for yourself that is. Selfish indulgence is condemnable because God’s blessings are meant to be shared with those who have need.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul said these words:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

God is not against wealth or the wealthy or capitalism. But he is against greed in all its forms. We ought to reflect the provident character of God who cares even for wild animals, “who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?” As we pursue resources for our subsistence and enjoyment, let us also pursue generosity and philanthropy. All these with the aim in view of becoming “rich in the eyes of God.” Life, as described in the Psalms, is like a mere phantom; a mere blink and it is gone. It is therefore not about storing wealth for oneself considering that life will end, but it is about doing good to others as a “firm foundation” according to Paul.

Greed indeed is not good. Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” As the clichés goes, “we are meant to be channels of blessings to others.” Knowing that life will end and at the end of it there will be an accounting, we therefore ought to live in ways that are pleasing to Him.