The Gospel of Luke 12:16-21—The Parable of the Rich Man and the Abundant Crop.
The parable of the rich man and the abundant crop (Luke 12:16-21) is preceded in scripture by a man who approached Jesus for His opinion regarding his share of a family inheritance (Luke 12:13-15). Many biblical scholars believe that the question posed by the man regarding his inheritance was a question looking for support from Jesus of his greed regarding his share of the family inheritance. In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus addresses the man’s inquiry regarding his inheritance by telling him about the rich man with an abundant crop and stressing that this rich man was “…not rich toward God”. The rich man should not have worried about hoarding his wealth because in the long run what was most important was his belief in God and doing the things that will benefit his soul. The message is clarified further by Jesus in the passage that follows, Luke 12:22-34, “..do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food and the body is more than clothing….”.
Although it seems like the 3 Gospel readings (Lk 12:13-15, Lk 12:16-21, and Lk 12:22-34) are condemning worldly concerns for accumulating food and wealth, these passages do not actually refer to preparedness in times of disaster, famine, hardship or apocalyptic circumstances. What the scriptural passages are condemning is hoarding an excess of what can be used within a lifetime simply for the pleasure of having the ability to accumulate it … that is, living a selfish life focused on one’s self rather than a life focused on God and others. Having some emergency supplies available is important for challenging times and the New Testament Scripture of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) with an eschatological theme is a perfect example of this. Recalling the parable, having enough oil was the issue for the virgins. Oil is used in the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. It is also used in the burning of the lamps in Church like it is in the Scripture reading of the Wise Virgins. Clearly, the emphasis on the abundance of the oil is focused on the worship of the Lord in this Scripture — the Wise Virgins were, “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). The wise Virgins were prepared and had put up enough oil to sustain them during their vigil – they did not have excess to share — If the wise Virgins had more oil then they would have needed, then it would have been the God-centered thing to do to share with the Virgins who did not have enough. Of course, who can say ‘how much is enough’ – ….perhaps the Rich Man with the abundant crop was of the same mindset — he didn’t know if he had enough. Perhaps he was not hoarding from his point of view, only being conservative and making sure his family was provided for since one can never “know the hour” (Matthew 24:36, 24:43, Mark 13:32, Luke 12:39, Rev. 3:3) ….. this thought of not having enough could easily encourage greed because one never knows how much one will really need. Another example is the Parable of the Faithful Servant (Matthew 24:42-51, Mark 13:33-37). The point being, the #1 priority in a person’s life should be focus on God, to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) – trusting in the Lord, and trying to live in a God-like manner toward others.
At some time in history, people started saying, “God helps those who help themselves…” and many people believed the phrase came from the Bible. Actually, this phrase is nowhere in the Bible! Some historians believe that the phrase may have originated in ancient Greece from Greek drama and Aesop’s Fables. Similar phrasing can be found in Scripture, but, it should be noted that the passages stress a God-centered life. The passages are: Jeremiah 17:5 – Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord. (NKJV); and, Proverbs 28:26 – He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered.
Did Jesus answer the man who questioned his distribution of the family inheritance? Was the man being greedy in his request for his share of the inheritance? Was the person who left the wealth behind hoarding and being greedy? Reading the passage, Lk 12:13-15, and comparing with the two scriptures readings that follows, Lk 12:16-21 and Lk 12:22-34, does leave the issue unresolved to many biblical scholars way of thinking. But the fact remains, trusting in the Lord and sharing the excess of one’s wealth with those less fortunate during one’s lifetime, is the God-centered work of the Lord which helps mankind and leads us toward salvation.
References: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, InterVarsity Press; The Gospel of Luke by Lawrence Farley, Conciliar Press; The New Testament, Luke and Acts, by Paul Tarazi, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; NKJV