The Parable of the Rich Fool


James Boswell in his biography of Samuel Johnson (a famous English writer) says, “he remembers the one day he went fishing with his father. He called it the most significant day of his life with his dad. Later he got hold of his father’s diary and read the entry, quote: “Went fishing with Sam, day wasted.”

Why did he think the day was wasted? Maybe it was because he wasn’t at work making more money, getting ahead in his career.

Jesus tells us a parable about a man like that. He is called “the rich fool.”

The Passage:
Luke 12:13-21

The Parameters

In chapter 11 Jesus is condemning the religious leaders for their hypocrisy (vs. 42-43) and for rejecting and killing God’s messengers (47).

In 12:1 Jesus warns the disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees. He defines it as hypocrisy. They placed all their emphasis on externals - on the physical - on the temporal. He condemns them elsewhere for being white-washed tombs (Mat 23:27) because their insides are rotten, but they have covered up the rottenness with nice looking rituals and rules. But, 12:2 says there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed...

In chapter 11 Jesus talked about how the Jewish religious leaders always killed God’s messengers. In 12:4 Jesus teaches his disciples not to be afraid of those who kill the body, which is a physical and temporal issue. Instead, they should be afraid of God who has power over their souls and can send them to hell (12:5). That is a spiritual issue. It is an eternal issue. Then he reminds them that there will be a final accounting in the after-life (12:8-9).

He also tells them not to be anxious for their life when these prophet killers drag them before the courts because the Holy Spirit will guide them.

In vs. 13 Some guy in the crowd says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” I recently heard someone teach on this parable and he said that this guy comes out of left field with his question - that it was totally unrelated to the context. I disagree. I think it is very related to the context.

What does this question reveal to us? It shows that he has not been paying attention because he worried about a physical temporal thing. Far from being out of context. The man’s question illustrates the very thing that Jesus was speaking about.

The law of primogeniture says (Num 27:1-11 Deut 21:15) that the first born gets a double portion. If you had two brothers, you divided the estate three ways and the oldest got two parts. So guess which son this is. He is the youngest son.

If he is asking this, what does that tell us about his father? His dad has just died. That will set us up for a very significant part of the parable.

This shows that he is greedy. From here on we will refer to him as the greedy brother.

The greedy brother is not following the ideal of living in harmony with his brother. Ps 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” I would assume this man knew the Scriptures but did not care. The greedy brother treasured riches more than his relationship with his brother. He did not love people.

In vs. 14 what is Jesus’ response? He says, “Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you?”

The irony is that when Jesus says, “Who made me a judge over you?” it seems to imply that it wasn’t His job, but in reality it was going to be soon. Jesus is asking probing questions to see if the people understand who He really is.

The word arbiter can also be translated “divider.” Jesus could also be saying I am not going to contribute to the division between you and your brother. Although the greedy brother doesn’t care about Psalm 133:1, Jesus remembers. He came to promote relationships.

vs. 15. gives us a big clue as to what the point of the parable is. Jesus condemns greed and warns that even if the man gets a larger share of the inheritance, it will not bring life.

People don’t believe this. They think that if they can only get enough material things these things will produce the abundant life.

Do riches bring the abundant life? Listen to what Andrew Carnegie had to say:

"Millionaires who laugh," said Andrew Carnegie, "are rare. “You may have all the money in the world, and yet be a lonely, sorrowing man.”

In 1889 he wrote The Gospel of Wealth, in which he asserted that all personal wealth beyond that required to supply the needs of one's family should be regarded as a trust fund to be administered for the benefit of the community.


Sir Earnest Cassel said, “The light has gone out of my life. I live in this beautiful house, which I have furnished with all the luxury and wonder of art; but, believe me, I no longer value my millions. I sit here for hours every night longing for my beloved daughter."



 And Christina Onassis said, "Happiness is not based on money and the greatest proof of that is our family."

Everyone thought she had it all. A tax free income of one million dollars a week; the world's largest yacht, which bore her name; and a life lived in the company of the richest, most powerful people on earth. Her tragic death at age 37 shocked the world, though people who knew Christina Onassis well weren't surprised at all. Even untold riches aren't enough to provide a buffer for the emotional onslaught she had endured most of her life. Christina had simply grown tired of the fight.

Do you believe these stories? Or do you think it would be different for you if you had lots of money?

The Problem Which Prompts The Parable

Jesus is dealing with the problem of greed and seeking life on earth in temporal possessions.

The Progression

Biographical - There is a comparison and contrast going on between the two characters in the parable and two characters outside the parable.

Characters In the Parable

The Rich man

At first he appears to be a good man who has many riches. He is content with them and going to enjoy them. He is the ultimate couch potato. Why is Christ telling a story about a rich man to a bunch of poor people and to a greedy brother? I think He is setting them up with this story.


God is the judge. He thinks the man is a fool. Until verse 20 the rich man doesn’t appear to be too bad. Then we get God’s opinion of him. The problem is not that he has lots of riches. It is his attitude. He thinks this is all there is to life and he is content.

Characters outside the parable:

The Greedy brother

He is a greedy man, and wants riches. His attitude is that more money will bring him life.


The Particulars Of The Parable

Vs 16 - Why is Jesus telling this parable about the rich man who had no greed to a greedy man?

Jesus builds up the rich man as a good guy, a content man - something that is very rare. This guy is just the opposite of the greedy man. What do we learn? Both thought that life consisted in stuff. Selfishness and self-satisfaction are two opposite pulls that are both out of balance to God. They are opposite sides of the same coin.

The man in the parable was already rich. He already had enough for himself. But this year, he had a bumper crop. Isn’t this the way it always is? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer? One gets the impression that the rich man didn’t really work very hard for this. Why does Jesus want us to get that impression? If you get something that you didn’t work for, what is it? It is a gift. Who was this gift from? It was a gift from God. Remember that.

So, what does he do with the surplus? Verse 17 says “The rich man began reasoning to himself” This is significant because in that culture everyone went to the city gates to discuss everything. This man doesn’t do that. We get the impression that he has no friends, no relationship with anyone.

He says, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops? This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.”

Notice the emphasis on “I” and “my” as he reasons with himself. He did not understand that his prosperity was a gift from God. He forgot that he was a steward and thought that he owned it all.

In vs. 19 he assumes that he will live for a long time, and will enjoy his stuff.

But in vs. 20. God enters the scene and says, “You fool” the word for fool is a[frwn. This may be a play on words with the word for “merry” in the preceding verse which is eujfraivnou. “The rich man who thinks that his eujforew (many things) will produce eujfrwn (the good life), is in reality a[frwn (without mind, spirit and emotions).” (eujfraivnou, p. 67.) He is without life. He is stupid.

God goes on to say, “your soul is required of you.” The word “required” has the idea of paying back a loan. This emphasizes the idea that the man was just a steward of his stuff and not the owner.

Then God says, “now who will own what you have prepared?”

What is the connection between the greedy guy’s question and the parable?

The greedy guy’s question was concerning his inheritance (because his father had died) and the parable ends with a question of inheritance (because the rich man died). “Who will own what you have prepared?”

 We know what will happen. We see it happening with the greedy man. The kids are going to fight over it. It reminds me of Howard Hughes. When he died, there was no will and people fought over his inheritance for years.


In vs. 21 Jesus says, “So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

There is a major reversal in the parable - the rich man ends up being poor to God. Notice the poetic justice. Why does Jesus tell a bunch of poor people about a rich man? How does a rich man story go over? Poor people want bad things to happen to rich people, because they are jealous. The Clinton’s got elected by playing on that emotion. They said they would tax the rich and give to the poor. To the poor people this is poetic justice. To the rich, this is a tragedy.

Notice how this parable even fits in the context of Jesus’ speech to the multitude. 12:11 don’t be anxious... 12:22 don’t be anxious.... He is telling them not to be anxious about temporal things. The greedy man’s question fit right into the context of Jesus’ lesson. It’s almost like it was staged. It certainly shows that the greedy man wasn’t paying any attention to what was being said.

Verse 23. There is more to life than food and clothing, things, stuff.... Verses 15 and 23 introduce and conclude the parable with the same thought. Man’s life does not consist of stuff. That is the answer to the materialism of our day.

The Point

Because we cannot take our material possessions with us, we should concentrate on storing up eternal treasures in heaven.



Primogeniture is the common law right of the first-born son to inherit the entire estate, to the exclusion of younger siblings. According to the Norman tradition, the first-born son inherited the entirety of a parent's wealth, estate, title or office and then would be responsible for any further passing of the inheritance to his siblings. In the absence of children, inheritance passed to the collateral relatives, in order of seniority of the collateral line.