Parable of the Harvest of the Rich Man

Parable of the Harvest of the Rich Man

Luke 12:16-21

26th Sunday after Pentecost


 In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Today we read a very short parable about the harvest of a rich man and like so much of scripture it has deep theology in very few words. It appears simple on the outside. But, truly it has much more than just the external message, which teaches that we should not only care about ourselves and be stingy and care only and think of life as the acquiring of goods.


Our Lord said this parable because he had just been part of or been brought into a dispute between brothers two about an inheritance. So He was trying to show how silly it is, how foolish it is to be concerned about riches.


So He begins His parable by saying "the ground of a certain rich man" – he doesn’t even name the man. If you notice sometimes in parables those who are great sinners don’t even have a name: such as the rich man and Lazarus, and the rich man who had this plentiful harvest. His name is blotted out of the book of the Living. It’s unimportant. Perhaps, when he dies, there would be great fanfare, and people playing bugles, and paid mourners wailing and gnashing their teeth and tearing at their hair and a huge retinue of people to bury him and maybe even those from the towns people, who say, "What a great man he was…" and everything. And yet God doesn’t know his name, the angels don’t know his name, the saints don’t know who he is.


This is not how we want to be referred to, as a certain person, a certain rich man, a certain sinner, a certain non-entity in the Kingdom of God. Indeed we want to be named. So this nameless, foolish man has many crops and it is a bountiful year. And he makes a great mistake. Instead of thanking God, he thinks before he’s even brought his crop in, "What shall I do?"


This is a question that all of us ask all the time: "What shall I do?"


The poor man asks, "What shall I do? I’m destitute. I have no funds. I have no food in the cupboard. Winter is coming and my children do not have shoes. What shall I do?" And the rich man, who is not rich toward God, who has all this bounty, says "What shall I do?" The one who has nothing and the one who has everything in a temporal sense, they both ask the same question. So what good is riches? What good is abundance unless we understand from Whom that abundance comes and what is the significance of that abundance and how we can use it for the Kingdom of God?


So he says, "I have no room in my barns so I’m going to tear down perfectly good barns and I’m going to build greater barns." And then he makes an even bigger error and that’s an error that we make often so you should take note of it. He says, "My soul, soul that has much goods laid up for many years take thine ease. Eat, drink, and be merry." He speaks to his soul. What does the soul need of food? What does the soul need of raiment? What does the soul need of great barns? The soul is incorporeal. The soul communicates with God. It doesn’t need food. He speaks to his soul and mistakes it for his body. This, indeed, is a great error and this is what happens in our life. People define life in terms of the pleasure that they have, or in terms of the comfort that they have, or the security that they have. It is always about taking care of their bodies. Or more than taking care of their bodies, sometimes giving their body pleasure that is illicit and unclean. But, it’s always about their bodies.


This rich man makes the mistake that is very typical of those who do not have their eye on God and don’t understand what the purpose of their life is all about. His soul and his body to him, he doesn’t understand what his soul is. His soul is the body as far as he is concerned. Everything is the here and now, everything is the next dinner, the next dance, the next bit of entertainment. That is for him what his soul is. And we will see later in only a moment what this really means. The implications of not understanding about your soul and your body and the purpose in your life are tremendous and terrible.


So God says unto him, "Thou fool. This very night thy soul shall be required of thee." A more proper way to put it is: "This very night, they shall require thy soul." "They" are the demons. They will take the soul and cast it where it belongs: in the pit of hell. God doesn’t refer to the death of a righteous man in this way. The angels take the soul which is light and ascends to God. It is not "required", that is, against the will of a man. It is natural. In this case, the rich man, his soul is required. It is torn away because everything that he had in this life was temporal, was false, and was fleeting. And when he died, he had nothing. No good works, no good thoughts. Nothing. And so his soul clung to his body. His soul became fleshly in the words of Blessed Theophylact. And so his soul was town away for him.


I tell you, there will be no greater pain experienced by any man than when a fleshly soul is torn away from a corrupt body at the time of death. Nothing can compare: no torture, no torment. It is a moment of great tragedy that a man who has so much provided to him would have not understood it for all of his years.


There are other things in this parable that are important to understand. Perhaps, more side issues. One is that when he says, "I’m going to pull down my barns and build greater." He had barns that he could’ve put his foodstuffs into: the bellies of the poor. If a man has more than another, he is obligated to give to one who needs.


The bellies of the poor are storehouses, abundant storehouses, infinite storehouses. And the wonder of these storehouses is that when food is put into them, it does not perish. It endures forever and every single cup of water that is given to one of these store houses, the bellies of the poor, will be remembered according to the words of our Savior, in the last day. So, this food does not perish. Where as normally, we eat food, it goes into the belly, and it goes out, and as the Lord says "into the drop." It becomes waste in a matter of hours. But not food that is given to the poor. Not abundance that God gives to us that we distribute to others.


But you have to understand this is not just a moral teaching saying we should give to others. There is depth here as far as why we give to others. It’s all God’s anyway.


That’s another mistake the rich man made when he said, "Thou hast many goods…"


Oh, rich man, thou hast no goods! Everything is of God’s. And God has given some of it to you. He has given you an abundance in order so that you could give unto others. So we must understand everything is of God’s. But much more critical, if we are truly to be benevolent people, is that we must understand "What is the purpose of our life?" The rich man definitely didn’t understand. He called his body his soul. He didn’t understand at all. In the end of the parable, the Lord said, "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God."


The purpose of our life is to become rich towards God. Our Lord wishes us to have everything in abundance. And in the second , there was speaking of, "All of His goods will be given to the good man of the house that watches and waits and will be seen to be so doing when his Lord comes" So there’s a perfect tie in with the two gospels. All of the Lord’s goods will be given, but they are not silver and gold and food and dancing, and merriment. By the way, Blessed Theophylact, says that when the rich man says "take thine eat, drink, and be merry" this word "merry" is a euphemism. When people are indulged in great excess of drinking and eating, merriment is something that you wouldn’t want to see. That would be unclean and immoral. All manner of fornication, and all manner even of murders, and all kinds of infidelities and all that sort of thing. That’s the merriment for a person who’s glutting himself on pleasure.


The purpose of our life is to know God. God gives us things so that we can know Him. God sometimes gives us abundance so that we can know Him. Everything is of God. Therefore, we are only His stewards. We are His servants. We must have that attitude about ourselves. And then we must understand what is really treasure?


God has given us many things of a physical nature and we can enjoy them. We can certainly enjoy the taste of fine and succulent food on the days when it is allowed and it is totally lawful thing to do this. And all of the other things God has given. But, we must understand where our treasure is. Our treasure is in being rich towards God, in having full faith in Him. And then He will bestow His goods to us. We can’t even imagine what those goods really are. We can only speak of them in a poor way. Language can’t communicate what God wants to give us. He will give it to a man who is open to Him, who is rich toward Him. Who hears of the commandments and says, "I wish to do this."


Even if a man can not do a certain commandment or can not in every way change his life, in his heart, if he is a Christian, he says, "I want to change. I want to direct my life according to that which is true, that which is perfect, that which is holy." Then a man, not matter what state he’s in, is rich toward God. This is the purpose of our life: to know God, to become like Him in moral attributes, to become pure and holy. And this rich man, this nameless, wanton sinner, did not understand that. He did not understand anything of what God had given him and what the purpose of his life is.


So here we have before us, brothers and sisters, a bad example. We must learn from bad examples as much as we learn from good examples. This is an example of how not to live, how not to think. We should not live according to the flesh. We should not aquaint the flesh with our life.


There are necessities of the flesh and we take care of those. There are pleasures of the flesh and when they are lawful, may it be blessed. But if we ever acquaint any pleasure of the flesh with our life, we have ceased to be a Christian. No longer are we a Christian if we think of the flesh as our life. May God help you.


May God enlighten you. There is much depth here. I can’t begin to plum the depths of it because I don’t have the purity to see it all or the eloquence to express it all. But, there is depth here. There is in this parable a teaching trying to teach you how to live, what kind of attitude to have. That’s the depth of it. May God help you and enlighten you to live according to God, to be rich toward God. Amen.


Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas


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4 Responses to “Parable of the Harvest of the Rich Man”

  1. Deborah says:

    “He speaks to his soul and mistakes it for his body…”

    These words leaped off the page when I read them. The flesh is so deceitful! When the flesh feels good, all is right with the world (for the moment).

    One controlled by the flesh can not only mistake his body for his soul, but can mistake his mind or his heart for his soul, as well. This is a more subtle, and thus much more dangerous, delusion. One could make oneself poor on the outside, giving away everything to the poor, could have great knowledge of spiritual things and the love of many friends–and still be impoverished in one’s soul. What a subtle, terrible and deadly self deceit–to mistake the riches of the heart and mind for the wealth of the spirit!

    “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
    1 Corinthians 13:1-3

  2. Father, bless.

    “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body”.
    (C. S. Lewis)

    It is so natural for us to make plans…We more think things over & plan something than actually live. And we also set aside something “for the future”. But future comes too fast, it comes faster than we are able to track it. The more a person is focused on a temporary life & riches, the more he is cautious about what will be not even tomorrow, but in 10, 20 years…As the more tighter bounds fix him to the earth. Of course it’s necessary to use things cautiously, correctly. But as many other habits or inclinations, this tendency to plan & save may grow enormously & lead to greed & mania. If not controlled by Christian conscience, any seemingly good feature can turn into the opposite one, doing harm to the soul & distract a person from the most important & vital he should seek – salvation. There is an anecdote (though it’s not the place to laugh, I know): “If you want to amuse God, tell Him your plans”. In reality it is all far from being funny. A person becomes like an eagle, bounded to the earth with both feet, unable to fly up. C.S.Lewis writes that our claim for own own property is equally strange both for Heaven & hell.

    St Anthony, Elder of Optina, said:
    “Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many!”

    Not only earthy goods, but the mere life is in God’s hands. A true Christian lives by God’s will, and God will never deprive his servant of anything necessary for the salvation of his soul, and will give him everything in this life & the future one. Those ones, who understood it in proper time & lived accordingly, know it perfectly well by their own experience. We just should minimize our fears, including the uncertainty in tomorrow & fear of the future. This all is a creation of faint-heartedness & poor faith. To make our bound to Christ more firm & certain, we should, I think, tend to live in & by the present, trying to fill our today with what we can do for our soul. This is our real time, while past is gone, and the future is fantastic & is a very subjective notion.

    A very popular saying today is “time is money”. In reality time is much more precious than money. It’s our life, our today which is flying away, carrying away many opportunities that we could use for our salvation but did not.

    “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures”. (Thornton Wilder) Spiritual treasures, and many other treasures our Lord feeds us every day, every single minute.

  3. I think the best plan to make is “I will be a Christian today”. How can it be that we know something and yet do not live like we know it? This is a great mystery to me.

  4. Deborah says:

    Father Bless,

    For me the reason seems to be that it takes a while for the knowledge of the Truth to move from my head and filter down into my ‘gut’—to infuse every cell of my body.

    I remember virtually nothing from my 4 years of piano lessons as a child. But there is one piece of music, that when I sit down at a piano, my fingers can move across the keys and play without thinking (in fact, if I stop to think about where to put my fingers I can’t play it). At some point in the past the music moved from my head to my fingers and the playing became a reflex.

    Only when the Truth has become a part of my very being am I able to act reflexively in the manner in which my spirit desires, but my flesh resists.

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