When I was growing up, I was forbidden to call someone "a fool". My mother had a very literal interpretation of the Bible and there is a verse in the King James Bible that says "...whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matt. 5:22) So, if we called anyone a fool, we would get called onto the carpet and have to repent because it is there in plain red type (Jesus' very words) that anyone who calls someone else "a fool" is in danger of hell fire. My mother wanted to be sure that I did not go to hell for the words I said so she was the word censor in our house.
I strayed away from her literal interpretation of the Bible and in modern times have occasionally used the word "fool" to describe someone. I normally do not use that word directly to the fool I intend to label but behind his or her back as I talk about them to someone else (another sin I rack up). The reference to someone as being a "fool" or "foolish" seems to describe someone's lack of common sense and misunderstanding of a situation or the world in general. I think that if we use the word cautiously and do not do it to someone's face or hearing then perhaps the use of the word "fool" is acceptable in a non-King James' world.
Besides God, God's-self uses the word to describe a human in our Gospel lesson for next Sunday from Luke 12. Jesus tells the parable about "The Rich Fool" (see there is it again, Jesus using the word this time) in response to a request from someone that Jesus order a brother to give another brother what he deserves from an inheritance. Jesus does not do what the person requests but instead tells him a parable about a rich farmer who had so many possessions that he had nowhere to store them all so he decided to tear down his barns and build larger barns so as to store all he had. Then, he congratulated himself on all he had and told himself to take it easy and eat, drink, and be merry.
God's voice is heard in the parable and God (again) calls the man a fool and says that he will face the judgment and then what will happen to all of his possessions. Whose will they be after he is gone?
This parable is not about the danger of having riches. It is not about being rich versus being poor. It is about values and generosity and making right choices when it comes to possessions. Jesus and the Early Church were supported by people of all income levels, rich and poor. Sometimes, a wealthy person would host Jesus at a meal. Sometimes wealthy people allowed Church services to be held in their homes as the Early Church emerged. Jesus valued all persons and did not preach against people having wealth. He taught against people being self-centered and not sharing with others who have little.
The rich farmer was a fool because he thought only of himself and never of anyone else. He did not even think of those who worked for him who grew the crops and built the barns. He most likely had slave labor and considered them his property also. So, he thought all he had was because of his own doing and he could benefit from all of his possessions and take it easy on his forever retirement plan. What he forgot was that he would not live forever. He would one day die and then who would benefit from what he owned?
Giving away part of what we own is part of what it means to be a good steward of what we have. We have all been abundantly blessed beyond our capabilities. We have been given good health, strength in our bodies to accomplish our tasks, and a support group of friends and relatives to cheer us on to great things. What we have accomplished is in part due to all these benefits so it is only natural to return part of what we have to bless others who have little. We do this in many ways--through our church as we give our tithes and offerings, through charitable organizations, and through reaching out to those in need whom we recognize in the world around us.
Thank God for those who have generous hearts and who give so that others will be blessed. When we keep all we have so that only we benefit from our blessings, we turn inward. When we share what we have, we turn outward and toward God.
John Wesley urged his followers to "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can." Words to live by both in his time and in the world in which we live.