So far as we are informed, the rich man mentioned in the scriptures who died while his barns were bulging with goods that he couldn’t use was not an evil man. Jesus didn’t say that he was dishonest, immoral, or lazy. The man was rich prior to the harvest, and the harvest simply increased his wealth. Certainly, he appears to have been very successful in his occupation. He must have been an intelligent and industrious worker to have accumulated such a great amount of wealth. The Lord didn’t call him a sinner; he merely said he was a fool.
Why such harsh condemnation? The man is a fool “because he has forgotten how the saying goes, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.‘ The saying applies strictly in his case; he will die during the night that begins the new day. Therefore, his grand plans are worthless” (Tannehill, 206).
Was this not a provident man who had worked hard all his life, saved his money and invested wisely, and now deserved to retire in comfort? Where had he failed?
First, the rich failed to restrain his obsession for possession and wealth. In the story we are told that he was so obsessed to hoard more, to possess more and to acquire more not knowing that death awaits him and caught him by surprised and, therefore, he was unprepared for his untimely death. And that costs him his soul. Indeed “Greed never rests from the acquiring of more” (On Love of Wealth 1 [Mor. 523 E]; L. T. Johnson 1991:198) until death puts a stop to it.
Second, he had failed to recognize the principle of stewardship. In his eyes, they were his barns, his fruits, his goods. He had forgotten, if he ever knew, that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, that every material thing we possess is by His sufferance and only temporarily.
Possessions or wealth are stewardship, not to be hoarded selfishly but to be used to benefit those around us. Jesus is not saying possessions are bad, but that the selfish pursuit of them is pointless. When the creation is inverted, the value of possessions is distorted. Those who climb over people or ignore them in the pursuit of possessions will come up empty on the day God sorts out our lives. What a tragic misuse of the gift of resources this man had gained! What could have been an opportunity for generosity and blessing became a stumbling block to the soul.
Third, having forgotten that, it was only natural that his use of his wealth was so self-centered. The hint of his problem lies in the man’s use of the first-person pronoun. Go through the parable and circle the words “I” and “my” to get a sense of the man’s self-absorption. In his short conversation with himself, he uses the word “I” six times and the word “my” five times. There is no thought of a bonus for his hired hands or a service project for his community. There is no word of thanksgiving to God for this tremendous harvest. Everything is “I” and “my.”
All of it was to go into his enlarged barn for his ease. One commentator writes, It is mischievous error with which he starts, “I have not where to bestow my fruits”; and St. Ambrose has answered well, “Thou HAST barns, – the bosoms of the needy, – the houses of the widows – the mouths of orphans and of infants.” (Richard C. Trench, op. cit., p. 341) There was no thought of sharing, no concern for the poor, no awareness of brotherhood.
What is this rich fool guilty of? He is guilty of greed or avarice which he greatly manifested by his self-absorption and obsession for possession and wealth. Greed, an inordinate desire for material things, is one of the seven deadly sins. An avaricious person offends against justice and charity and becomes insensitive to the needs of his neighbor, so keen is he on his self-aggrandizement. “If you are inclined to avarice,” say St Francis de Sales, “think of its folly: it makes us slaves to that which was intended to serve us. Remember how we must leave everything when we die; perhaps those who get our wealth then will only squander it, and even to their ruin” (“Introduction to the Devout Life”, 4, 10). To use of the words of St. Paul, he is guilty of the love of money which is the root of all evil (see cf. 1 Tm 6:10).
Greed is an insidious trap that has the power to destroy those whose obsession for wealth and possession becomes the driving force of their lives. Greed is the devious, sinister, evil influence that makes people say, ‘What I have is not enough. I must have more. So that I will be more.’
Greed or avarice is the great cancer eating out the heart of mankind; and the Lord in his teaching here moved to lead men away from it. Human wants are insatiable; and getting only adds to the appetite for more. Paul associated it with moral uncleanness (Ephesians 4:19), calling it “idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). It is an evil that destroys man’s life here and hereafter.
“Be on your guard and avoid every kind of greed, for even though you have many possessions, it is not that which gives you life.” What does it profit a man if gains the whole world and loses his soul? Hence, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33).