The Rich Fool’s New Car

I’m buying a new car today. It’s not actually new but new to me. It’s a sweet ride and a bit of an indulgence. Do I really need it? Not exactly. Is it okay for me to buy it? Good question. Let’s weigh the options.

After using the parable of the rich fool to opine about binge TV and wasting time, I found myself looking back to the actual parable and what it says about possessions. So let’s remind ourselves of it:

A rich man’s land was very productive. He thought to himself, “What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and store all my grain and my goods there.  Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.'”

But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?” (Luke 12:16-20)

What a fool! We can all agree on that, right? But what should the rich fool have done? What actions in response to his great harvest would have earned him God’s approval rather than disdain? What could this man do with his bumper crop other than use it to coast into the sunset? Let’s explore the possibilities.

He could leave it out exposed to the elements where the rain and the rats would compete to ruin it first. Surely we can agree that God would not be pleased with that sort of stewardship.

He could give it away to the needy. Is that a good use of the crop? Apparently the rich man was going to be able to feed himself and his entourage for many years to come. It stands to reason that he could have fed a much larger group for a shorter span of years. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But of course when it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t spend or give away the same dollar (or bushel of grain) twice.

He could sell it and then invest the proceeds. If this man had a hundred acres, perhaps his excess could be sold in order to fund the purchase of a hundred or two hundred more acres. Whatever good could be done with the crop from the smaller lands could be magnified on the larger lands. But is purpose of profit simply to generate a bigger empire to create ever-bigger profits?

He could store it for a time of need. This is how Joseph saved Egypt in Genesis, isn’t it? The rich man could store his grain and then keep on producing more for future consumption. Then, when a bad situation arises, he could draw from those reserves and save the day. The downside to this approach is that he still has to build storage facilities and protect this reserve until bad times come.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t tell us what the rich fool should have done. He just lets us know that the man made the wrong choice. Is there a right answer to what he should have done?

Is there a right answer to what I should do with the extra money that appears in my bank account from time to time? In the past year, I’ve done some of all of these things. I’ve indulged a little bit. I’ve given some money and goods away. I’ve invested some money toward tomorrow, and I’ve simply stuck some into a savings account for an unforeseen need, like the opportunity to buy a car. Did I do it right?

Since Jesus didn’t give us exact instructions for dealing with whatever plenty he provides, I have to assume that he had a different way for directing us. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:16 that through the Holy Spirit, “we have the mind of Christ.” The mind of Christ lets me know when I’m mishandling both my money and my time. I just have to ask and then listen to the response.

What does that say about the car? In reality, this choice is a no-brainer. The car pleases me, is priced right, can be purchased (easily) for cash, and should keep me driving reliably for another four or five years. And did I mention that it pleases me? Jesus never said we shouldn’t enjoy life a little.

Give ’til it Hurts–1 John 3:17

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? –1 John 3:17

My brother-in-law struggles with his sense of salvation. Regardless of how well he has learned the gospel of Grace, he cannot separate his mind from the sense that works must be important. I’m not talking about the James-style works as the outward manifestation of inner faith. I’m talking about the sense that somehow works are going help save him or that a lack of works will interfere with his salvation.

A couple of years back, I heard him indicate that he had not done enough if somebody in Kansas City was cold during the winter. (He is a furnace repairman.) Apparently, at least in that moment, he was taking the warmth of the entire metro on his own shoulders. Must he forgo sleep in order to fix busted heaters all over town? And why should his furnace-fixing responsibility stop at the city limits? Why not in the state of Missouri? Why not the United States?

Sometimes we have to be careful when considering Scripture and see exactly what it says. One way to read this verse is to believe that as long as I have something and someone else has less, then I should be giving things away. According to that logic, I should sell my house and my cars and everything I possess until I descend to the level of the poorest people or they’re brought up to my level. Is that what John says here? Not quite.

As long as I have material blessings, I should look on my brother’s needs with pity. That doesn’t say that if I have $100 and nine other people have nothing that I should get ten $10 bills and divvy up the loot equally. It says I should have pity on my brother’s need. I should care. Typically such caring will include giving.  However, John does not say that I must give until I’ve given down to the level of my needy brother.

How much should we give, then? Neither John nor Jesus answers that question. Our caring and the way it is manifested, is something between us and God. I’ve seen God perfectly capable of telling me I have not given sufficiently. The question then is how we respond to that message. If the love of God is in you, you will care and you will respond. The “how much” of that is not for me to determine.