|Rembrandt's The Rich Fool|
Jesus, who can read people, and who does not need to infer from appearances, reacts in both cases by refusing to do what was requested. It is not often that we see him refusing to help a person. If it is surprising with the random, unidentified man in the crowd, it is even more so with Martha, his friend. Except when we realize that Jesus understood that something more was going on. With Martha, of course, it was her preoccupation with worries, her busyness. In the case of the man from Luke 12:13-15, it is his greed, something we could not know without further clues.
Jesus then uses the moment to teach the crowd, and tells the Parable of the Rich Fool--a parable that Christians who buy into the so-called Prosperity Gospel need to take to heart. In the story, a man finds that his harvest is so large that he does not have enough room to store it all. His solution is to tear down his old barns and build larger ones. Then he intends to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
On the surface, many Christians might not see the problem. There is nothing in the parable that indicates the man gained his wealth in bad ways. And if he worked hard for it, what could be wrong with prudently storing it away and later enjoying it and taking a rest? Something must have been very wrong, for God calls the man a fool. He then predicts the man's death, and that the wealth will fall into the hands of others. [It's a similar plot to Dickens' A Christmas Carol.]
The moral of the story gives us a clue to its meaning. Jesus says, "Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God," (Luke 12:15). The man was so preoccupied with wealth, success, and comfort that he neglected to learn what the purpose of his life was from God's point of view, and so all his hard work was a waste of time.
We are called today to ponder "what matters to God". A good beginning place for that would be to take another look at Jesus's first preaching in Nazareth where he quotes Isaiah, saying, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free," (Luke 4:18). Another good place would be to meditate on the life of Abraham, who is held up in the first reading from St. Paul's letter to the Romans as a model for us. He, unlike the Rich Fool, placed all of his hopes in God, and he was not disappointed.
Br. Paul, OP