Two ways to store grain

Luk 12:16-21 ESV  And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, (17)  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ (18)  And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. (19)  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ (20)  But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (21)  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Pro 11:25 A generous person will prosper, and anyone who gives water will receive a flood in return.

Pro 11:26  People will curse whoever withholds grain, but blessing will come to whoever is selling.

Pro 19:17  Whoever is kind to the poor is lending to the LORD—the benefit of his gift will return to him in abundance.

Jesus, in Luke 12, tells the above parable about selfishly storing grain. There is clearly a point about the Pharisees vision of Israel in there, but the main point concerns how one manages the wealth of his household. But it can be very easy to mistake what Jesus says here for something else. Is Jesus saying that it is wrong to save or to store up grain? Or is he saying that it is wrong to store up grain without being rich toward God?

The reason I do not think that Jesus is opposing saving money is because the man is clearly portrayed storing up treasures without generosity. Elsewhere in Luke’s gospel and its sequel, fairly rich patrons and matrons are praised for their generosity or for their literal selling of everything. So it isn’t the wealth or poverty per se that Luke or even Jesus sees as virtuous or vicious. It seems to be ones use of wealth. To illustrate this I’ve quoted three Proverbs. This might provide some helpful context for Jesus remarks about the man who stores up wealth. He never lends to God by caring for the poor (being rich toward God). He builds wealth without being generous as he builds larger storehouses for himself. And, he seems to be a loner, he talks to himself about the issue, not to his family or his servants. In this respect, the conclusion of Jesus’ parable of the clever manager comes to mind: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9)” Thus the man seems to not be particularly revered for his generosity amongst his countrymen.

Not coincidentally, the Old Testament has very clear laws for ancient Israelites concerning what they do with their grain:

Lev 19:9-10  “When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to completely finish harvesting the corners of the field, that is, you are not to pick what remains after you have reaped your harvest.  (10)  You are not to gather your vineyard or pick up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. Leave something for the poor and the resident alien who lives among you. I am the LORD your God.”

So the Old Testament background here indicates is that this rich man is not being properly rich. He is not generous, he stores up so much grain that there is nothing left over, and it will go to nobody when he dies alone, cursed by the people, and without friends.

Jesus also seems to have another famous Israelite in mind when he tells this story. Joseph, during his stay in Egypt, stored up enough grain to feed the Israelites, Egyptians, and several other people groups during a brutal famine:

Gen 41:47-57  During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly,  (48)  and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it.  (49)  And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.  (50)  Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him.  (51)  Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.”  (52)  The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  (53)  The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end,  (54)  and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.  (55)  When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”  (56)  So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt.  (57)  Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

Conclusion:

There is a right and wrong way to save up your resources. If you save up during times of plenty like the fable of the ant, then you will be able to live without anxiety and with generosity during times of famine. But the trick is to save up without being miserly. One must develop the habit of generosity even during times of plenty if one wishes to have unself-ish habits during times of want. At least, that’s my take on Jesus’ parable here.

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