Dear Friends in Christ,
Pictured above is a painting of the “Parable of the Rich Fool” by Episcopalian artist James B. Janknegt. Like most of his paintings, it’s essentially a sermon told in images.
In his retelling of Jesus’s parable, he gives us his viewers a glimpse of what’s going on in two different households by removing the front walls. We can tell by their outward appearance not only that the house on the left is larger, but that more has been invested in its upkeep. The common human temptation is to believe that the person living in the bigger more expensive house has a more fulfilled life, but what we see when we’re awarded an intimate look inside tells a different story.
In the house on the left lives one man who is confronted by the grim reaper over dinner. Among the many furnishings is a sculpture of a person with a hole where their heart should be. In the smaller less well-kempt house on the right, a family sits praying over their meal. The assumptions about the role of wealth in a person’s spiritual and emotional wellbeing are challenged.
With this message come other assumptions that we should look twice at. One is that this means wealth is inherently bad. While Jesus certainly expresses concerns about accumulating great amounts of material goods, He is never so short-sighted as to make a blanket statement on the morality of all wealthy persons. What He does preach is that we take an approach of intentionality and compassion when discerning how we exercise faithful stewardship of the resources entrusted to us. The rich man from this parable, called by God a “fool,” has failed to consider the needs of the poor or of creation in how he practiced stewardship.
The other assumption we leap to here is that the classic nuclear family is the only path to fulfillment. If this were true, then the magnificent tradition of monastic communities within Christianity would have never taken hold. There is plenty of room for diversity when it comes to how we build meaningful community—not the least of which is becoming a member of a church! What we get from the artist’s addition of the second household to the parable is a view of what it is that makes community meaningful. The family seen here is loving, intimate, and rooted in prayer. While God is interjected into the rich fool’s house in the hour of his death, God is invited into the family’s house to become a part of their life.
The joy and the frustration of parables like this one is that we’re never done with them. We spend our lifetimes coming back to them viewing them from perspectives that dramatically change with new experiences. Jesus continues to speak to us and challenge us in new ways with the same words He used 2000 years ago! Engaging with His wisdom in solitude and in community is part of how we bring Him closer and integrate that wisdom into our lives.