In the Lectionary

July 31, Ordinary 18C Luke (12:13-21) 

The lilies of the field don’t have student loans.

Rembrandt painted the rich fool. He sits alone in the darkness, surrounded by piles of books, and examines a single coin. The books are an indication of his great wealth, but the mood of the painting is impoverished. There is something sad about him sitting there in the dim light, absorbed in the study of his wealth, searching the coin as if it will reveal some new meaning.

I’ve been anxious about money for most of my life. Lately, I feel like I think of little else. To be clear: I’m not currently in crisis. I’m just afraid I will be. A serious illness, the resumption of student loan payments, car trouble—any of these might blow down my barn. I feel a little like the old man in Rembrandt’s painting, but instead I’m wearily staring at my bank balance, willing it to grow.

Jesus is straightforward about the dangers of wealth. “Be on guard against all kinds of greed,” he warns his interlocutor, who has inspired this lesson by asking Jesus, of all people, to arbitrate a dispute over an inheritance. Jesus responds by telling the story of the rich fool, a man who literally has more than he knows what to do with. We gather from the man’s repetition of first-person pronouns—and from the fact that he’s talking to himself—that he is somewhat isolated, or possibly that he thinks he alone is wise enough to solve his rich-man problems. He doesn’t pray about it, either. In the end he decides to build bigger barns to hold all his stuff, and then God lowers the curtain on the whole drama by demanding the rich man’s life.