Continuing on in chapter twelve of Luke, Jesus can be heard to say “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15). This will be programmatic and quite significant for what comes later. With this said, Jesus embarks upon a parable, saying “The land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop” (12:16b). With the mention of an abundant crop, and with the shared background of the knowledge of the Levitical/Deuteronomic blessings to be had for adherence to covenant responsibilities, Jesus’ hearers would likely and immediately take this as a sign that this man was blessed by the Creator God.
What would or should also come to mind is the passage from Deuteronomy that says “Be sure you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. When you eat your fill, when you build and occupy good houses, when your cattle and flocks increase, when you have plenty of silver and gold and when you have abundance of everything, be sure you do not feel self-important and forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery, and who brought you through the great, fearful desert of venomous serpents and scorpions, an arid place with no water” (8:11-15a).
Such ideas would not be lost on a people that, though they occupied their promised land, stood under the yoke of Rome, and figuratively at least, were in the place of slavery. Of course, this was the position of both Ezra and Nehemiah, who gave voice to a mindset that prevailed among the people through the hundreds of years following the return from Babylonian captivity and on into Jesus’ day,
(contrary to the Pharisaic claim of John 8:33 that “we are descendants of Abraham… and have never been anyone’s slaves”) as they insisted that even though the people of God had re-settled in the land, “we are slaves” (Ezra 9:9, Nehemiah 9:36). According to what comes next in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, Jesus’ hearers would have expected the rich man to adhere to the proviso to “Be careful not to say, ‘My own ability and skill have gotten me this wealth’,” and to “remember the Lord your God, for He is the one who gives ability to get wealth” (8:18a).
This rich man, unfortunately, did not have the proper mindset, as “he thought to himself: ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’” (Luke 12:17) In answering this self-directed query, the appropriate response would have been to provide the excess to the poor of the land, as was repeatedly suggested to the covenant people in what is presumed to be their charter, but this was not the route that he chose, Jesus goes on to report that “he said, ‘I will do this; I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of goods stored up for many years; relax, eat, drink, celebrate!”’” (12:18-19)
It would seem that this theoretical rich man also has a portion of Deuteronomy in mind, though it may have been twisted and excerpted through his own personal translation. The crowd that is listening to Jesus could have understood that this rich man with abundant crops that are clearly productive of excess, has selected portions of the fourteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, reading for himself “When He blesses you… you may spend the money however you wish for cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or whatever you desire. You and your household may eat… and enjoy it” (14:24a,26a,c).
They would have known that what he should have done was use the excess in such a way that “the resident foreigners, the orphans, and the widows of your villages may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work you do” (14:29b). Unfortunately, he did not choose this path of action, and Jesus insists that “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” (Luke 12:20) Jesus punctuates the parable with “So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God” (12:21).