The parable of the foolish farmer is a challenging one for 21st century, middle to upper class, Americans to hear. When Jesus was walking the earth, the standard retirement plan was having children. Male children would get married, build a room on to or next door to the family house, and support their parents when age and infirmity would no longer allow the men to work and the women to cook and sew. In most cases, one did not simply choose to retire, but rather it was forced upon you. So, when Jesus talks about a man who has so much that he can sit back and relax and live off his reserves, he is speaking of an anomaly.
Now-a-days, however, retirement is seen as something of a rite. Pensions are few and far between, but with Social Security and the hundreds of thousands of investment plans out there, it is almost a given that a middle class person should be able to retire by age 65 and live out their days enjoying “the good life.” So, when Jesus explains the calamity of the foolish farmer by saying, “So will it be with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God,” it smacks right up against our cultural expectations.
Perhaps there is a middle way, however, given the context in which we live. Perhaps the Church Pension Fund, a 401(k), and Social Security aren’t an abomination before the Lord. Perhaps we can secure our future finances knowing our eternal lives are not in peril because what seems to be important in this story isn’t money, but being “rich toward God.” So, what does that mean?
The NLT seems to pick up the meaning a little more clearly than the NRSV, “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” The gist of it seems to be that this foolish man was focused only on himself: not his family, not his friends, not his business partners, or his farm hands, and certainly not the poor in his town. He stored up only for himself. Those who are rich toward God can store up for themselves, but they also keep in mind those who are are in need: family, friends, employees, and yes, even the poor. So go ahead, make those contributions to your 401(k), but remember to give alms in thanksgiving for God, from whom all wealth comes.