June 2, 2013 - Second Sunday after Pentecost
What’s wrong with a
good retirement plan? How many of us have at least something set aside so that
we can get by in our older years? So why, in verse 20, did God call the man in
Jesus’ story a fool? As they say, it must be true because God said it, but why?
Wasn’t he just being prudent?
You are a plumber. You
got trained and licensed, you do good work, your rates are fair. When someone
calls, they call again because they get honest work for a fair price. Word gets
around. One day you can’t answer all the calls. So you hire an assistant, then
another. Then you rent an office, and get a secretary to answer the phone and
keep the books. You’re just building a business to support you and your family
the rest of your life.
You are a seamstress.
It’s a hobby, but then a friend offers to pay for a wedding dress for her
daughter. Everyone at the wedding asks where the bride found her dress. More
women ask you to make dresses. Soon you’re making good money. But your family
complains about sewing projects covering the dining room table and filling up
the living room. So you and your husband plans and build a spacious new sewing
room on the back of the house. Now you’ve got room for a business which is
putting money in your savings.
What’s wrong with all
that? What’s wrong with initiative and hard work and planning for the future,
values on which this country was built? So why is the rich man in Jesus’ parable
any different? Isn’t he the epitome of prudence? He has more crop than he can
store. So, in verse 18 he plans and enlarges his storage so nothing goes to
waste. He’s simply responding wisely to the growth of his business.
Wouldn’t you do the
same? It’s just good business management. It doesn’t seem foolish. It seems
prudent. Of course that’s not a word we use often these days. But prudence is
an old fashioned word for a virtue that many appreciate. We looked at faith,
hope and love, the Christian virtues, the theological virtues, the virtues that
are specifically aimed at God. Now we’re on to the four cardinal virtues and
the first is prudence.
Prudence is not a term
we often use anymore. It sounds like a girl’s name from a Victorian novel. It
sounds a bit like “prudish,” so we might think a prudent person is a conservative
with a narrow morality. If we do use the term, we tend to think of just the
kind of the thing the rich man in this parable was doing. Prudence is good
business, looking ahead, planning well and avoiding losses and mistakes.
This first of the
cardinal virtues is sometimes called “wisdom,” but it’s not just deep thinking
or esoteric philosophy. It’s practical wisdom. The prudent person doesn’t
just have theoretical knowledge. She knows what to do. He knows how a
thing should be done. Prudence is knowing the truth and applying it to a
But isn’t that what
the man in Jesus’ story was doing? Ask Carl here. Some of you have borrowed
Carl’s tools. Whatever it is, from a splitting maul to a welder, Carl has it.
And as he said yesterday on our fishing trip, he has all those tools because he
keeps building new outbuildings on his property to store them all. It’s just
prudent. If it’s O.K. for Carl, what’s wrong with this guy Jesus was talking
And what’s wrong with
getting ready for retirement? You hope to plan your saving and investing well
so you can live near your grandchildren or in a beautiful retirement community
like Covenant Shores on Mercer Island. Is there anything wrong with prudent
foresight and planning, putting your resources away securely, hoping to live
out your life in peace and comfort? There doesn’t seem to be, but we keep
coming back to the question. Then why was the rich man here not prudent, but a
The virtue of wisdom
is practical, but it is not just practical. Aristotle said prudence is
right thinking applied to action. The practical application of wisdom, what we
tend to call “prudence,” is only the last part of the story. Right thinking
comes first. The man in the parable was not thinking right.
I fact, prudence has
three parts. A prudent person takes counsel, makes judgment, and
then, and only then, takes action. We often focus on just the second and
third parts together. We admire a person with a gift for good practical judgment.
He makes swift and brilliant decisions. And we admire the person who takes
action. She gets things done. But we’re not as keen on the person who “takes
counsel,” who wants to listen and learn and discern the truth before doing
The rich man is
decisive. He comes to a swift decision and then sets about his plan in verse
18. He’s got parts 2 and 3 of prudence. But look at verse 17. When he is
thinking about his plan, who is he listening to? “And he thought to himself…”
One reason this man is a fool is because the only person he consults about the
truth of his situation is himself.
He missed the first
part of prudence. He failed to properly take counsel and discern the truth
about his situation. He was planning for the future, but he wasn’t looking at
reality. He left out the biggest factor there is in reality.
Prudence is based on
knowledge. It’s the skill of putting knowledge to use. But your knowledge must
be real. You may be the best carpenter who ever lived, but if you fail
to check whether your foundation is level, it will not come out right. You can
measure exactly, square up everything, and saw perfect cuts. But if where you
started is out of plumb, not level, then the doors won’t hang straight.
My great aunt was a
wonderful cook. But when she got older she sometimes failed to distinguish the
sugar from the salt. So even though she still had all the practical skill to
make a beautiful pie, it tasted horrible. She wasn’t working from the reality
of her ingredients.
So it doesn’t matter
how practical you are. You can be a brilliant investor, a fantastic homemaker,
a thoughtful parent, but if you fail to discern reality, then life is going to
turn out like a crooked door frame or a salty pie. It will be wrong and hard to
swallow. You have to discern the truth about the situation in order to be
It’s not hard to find
the truth the rich man failed to discern. It brackets the story. Our text began
with a man who wanted to Jesus to settle a family dispute about money. As many
of you know, when parents get older or someone dies, it suddenly seems like
it’s all about the money. Whatever there was of family love or care for each
other disappears as people grab for the most they can get.
Jesus refused to get
involved in a dispute like that and said to everyone in verse 15, “Take care!
Be on you guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in
the abundance of possessions.” There’s the first lesson in prudent discernment
of reality. Reality, the reality of life, is not in how much you have.
Which is what God said
in verse 20, after calling the rich man a fool. “This very night your life is
being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
The man had failed to be realistic. He thought and acted as if he had control
over his life, could guarantee himself a comfortable retirement. But he failed
to grapple with the greatest reality of all.
That’s why prudence is
not the first virtue for Christians. All the foresight and planning and practical
skill in the world won’t do you any good, if you haven’t considered the
reality. That’s why Psalm 14:1 tells us, “The fool has said in his heart,
‘There is no God.’” A fool is person who fails to take account of reality, who
fails to take account of God.
So prudence comes
after faith, by which we believe in the truth of God and in what He’s done for
us through Jesus Christ. Prudence comes after hope, by which we learn to put
our trust in what God is doing and not what happens in this life. Prudence comes
after love, by which we learn to turn our hearts to the realities which really
matter, God and others. We need the virtues which turn us toward God before we
can be really prudent.
In verse 21, Jesus
talked about it in terms of storing up treasures for yourself versus being
“rich toward God.” That first business of storing up treasures looks prudent to
most of us. We want to build equity in our homes, put something in an IRA, have
a nest egg in bank account, and maybe even a few gold or silver coins stashed
away in case the banking system goes way south. But Jesus asks the much more
prudent question of whether we’ve been rich toward God.
Life is practical.
Jesus knew that. Everyday, you decide whether to build more barns or do
something else. You go shopping or stay home and clean house. You write your
term paper or talk with a friend. You place an order or take inventory. You
vote for this person or that person. All of it is plain, practical action in
the real world. But the real world, says Jesus, includes God. It’s not
prudent, it’s not realistic, if God is left out of the plan.
Right here, Jesus
doesn’t say how to do that, to be rich toward God. One way might be generosity
toward others. This rich man wasn’t thinking about anyone but himself and his own
future comfort. Down just a bit in the text, verse 33, Jesus talks about
preparing an “unfailing treasure” in heaven by giving away what you have to
those in need. If that kind of generosity isn’t part of our lives, we’re not
being very prudent.
Or we might consider
how rich we are toward God by how we use our time. Some would say that in our
world today, time is our most precious possession. We’re so busy. Time to do
what the rich man contemplated in verse 19, to “relax, eat, drink, be merry,”
feels like real treasure. But where is God in our leisure plans? Where are the
minutes for prayer, for Bible reading, for coming together in worship? Is our
time rich toward God?
One of the most
prudent men I ever knew wasn’t all that practical. He was ninety years old and
stored his lawn mower in the basement and still carried up the steps every time
he needed to mow the lawn. It never occurred to him to build a little
storehouse for it in the back yard. He probably thought he didn’t have enough
money for that. He and his wife just kept living in the same little house they had
But Eph—his first name
was Ephraim—was rich toward God. He had memorized whole chapters of the Bible.
He and his wife sat and prayed together for a long time every morning. He hardly
ever missed church.
No, Eph wasn’t all
that prudent in ordinary ways. When he worked he drove a propane delivery
truck around to Nebraska farms. He propped his Bible up on the dash or the seat
beside him so he could see it and work on memorizing. It wasn’t a prudent thing
to do by our contemporary standards of safety.
But Eph was prudent
about what really mattered. He loved his family and He loved God. He would talk
to anyone he met about the Lord. If a store clerk remarked on his name, he’d
say, “You find Ephraim in the Bible, and then we’ll talk more the next time I’m
back.” Eph was rich toward God. And Eph was totally ready when God was done
with him in this life.
My prayer is that you
and I will seek Eph’s sort of prudence. Planning for retirement is fine, but
without a plan for being ready when God calls, it’s just foolishness. Enlarging
your investments or your storage capacity isn’t bad, but investing and storing
your heart and life in God is far more prudent. Amen.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj