Finding Significance

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When it comes to teaching Scripture, I rarely find it particularly helpful to inundate my hearers with my exegesis. Exegesis is the practice of critically studying the text in its full context in order to draw out the author’s original intent. It includes studying the original language in which the particular text was written, which sometimes highlights emphases that may be lost in translation. Usually, however, original language studies benefit the preacher far more than they do the congregation.

Every now and again, however, it is useful to explain particular wordplays that are unclear in translation, but which help to highlight a practical reality. The parable of the rich fool is a case in point.

The parable arose on the back of a particular person in the crowd demanding that Jesus instruct his brother to divine the family inheritance between them. Jesus detected a note of covetousness in the person’s question and so responded with the parable of the rich fool, who built bigger barns to store his expanding wealth, unaware of the fact that death was at the door.

When Jesus described the fool’s abundant harvest (“plentifully” [v. 16]), he used the Greek word euphoreo, which literally means “to bear good fruit.” Later, when the rich man tells himself to “be merry (v. 19),” Jesus used a related word—euphraino—which means “to put in a good frame of mine.” These words come from a common Greek root, from which we derive the English word “euphoria.” It describes great happiness. The wordplay suggests that this man had attached his happiness—indeed, his soul’s very wellbeing (v. 19)—to his wealth.

The kicker comes with the Lord’s assessment of the man: “Fool!” “Fool” translates yet another related word: aphron. The prefix eu- in the first two uses (euphoreo and euphraino) means “good.” The man’s goodharvest put him in a good frame of mind. The prefix a- in the third use (aphron) is a prefix of negation. (For example, “theist” describes someone who believes in God; “atheist” describes someone who does not believe in God. The a- marks “atheist” as the opposite of “theist.”) Aphron, then, literally means “no fruit.”

That’s a bit of a technical meander. Let me draw it together: This man attached his personal “good fruit” (euphraino) (i.e. his soul’s wellbeing) to his material “good fruit” (euphoreo) (i.e. his abundant harvest), but God assessed all this to be “no fruit” (aphron) (i.e. folly). The very thing to which he attached his significance actually highlighted his eternal insignificance. Jesus’ wordplay showed that the man was not only slightly misguided but had fundamentally misinterpreted his life’s significance. He rooted his identity in his wealth, which only showed how foolish he really was. His confidence in his abundant crops blinded him to the truth and caused him to trust in his wealth rather than the Lord.

There are many people who are just like the rich fool. They equate their material wellbeing with their soul’s wellbeing and determine their significance by their wealth. They forget that God frequently considers worthless that which we so frequently consider worthwhile.

As you meditate on the parable of the rich fool this morning, ask yourself, where do I find my eternal significance? If it is in anything other than Christ crucified, repent of your no-fruit folly and embrace the way of the cross as the path to eternal significance.