What an appalling story this is, prompted by a family feud over an inheritance. No wonder the Book of Common Prayer bids Anglican clergy to encourage people to make sure that they have made proper wills!

After making far-reaching plans for his future, the man in our Lord’s parable suddenly experiences a searing pain in his chest and he’s dead before they can get him into ITU. It is a fairly common occurrence. There’s an enormous funeral with masses of wreaths and flowers, each accompanied by a card expressing love and sorrow. And then… just a card. No flowers, merely these words: “To a fool. From God.” What a dreadful summary of the man’s life! How awful if this is the verdict on anyone’s life. What mistakes did this man make that prompted such an epitaph?

1. He Mistook his Body for his Soul v. 19

“Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” Now there’s nothing wrong in these things. The Christian ideal is light years away from the Buddhist ambition of becoming a disembodied brain. We are most definitely world-affirming. But this man’s boundaries seem to have been Twickenham, the Savoy Grill, The Royal Festival Hall and Wembley.

He made no provision for the spiritual side of his make-up. He had been duped by the “Coca-Cola-nisation” of his age and had ignored the truth that without worship we shrivel. No doubt he was the breadwinner of the family. But if that was all he took home his family would have been spiritually bankrupt, for “man shall not live by bread alone.” so many today go to great lengths to improve their minds and keep their bodies fit and trim but do nothing for their souls. And God says “What a fool you have been.”

2. He Mistook Time for Eternity v.19-20

“…for many years… this night”. He had made tremendous plans for his retirement. His pension was enormous. But he had ignored the ultimate statistic: one out of one dies. Woody Allen says he’s not afraid of dying, he just doesn’t want to be around when it happens. although it is the one thing we have all got in common, amazingly, people fight shy of thinking about it. What a great conversation stopper at a dinner party to say to your hostess “Have you put your mind to your death recently?”! Even the undertaker who signed his letters “…yours eventually” wouldn’t have got through to this man. What folly to mistake time for eternity and not to give thought to my death!

3. He Mistook himself for God vs 17-18

Did you notice those aggressive pronouns “I… I… my… I… my… my… I… my…”? but God said to him “this night your soul is required of you” and I’m told the word “required” has all the overtones of something that has been lent and is now being asked for back. Of course that’s right. They weren’t his barns. My life, my home, my education, my time, my family, my day-off, my holidays, aren’t mine. they have been lent me. I’m merely a steward. This man played God Almighty. I’m sure he wasn’t stupid enough to be an atheist but he simply bowed God out of the picture, and although “C. of E” would have been on his official forms, in his heart he said God was irrelevant. if he was a self-made man then money was his god – his creator, his saviour to get him out of holes, and his comforter as he acquired more possessions to cheer himself up.

What a fool he was! How appalling it would be if God passed the same verdict on our lives because we made the same mistake.

Jonathan Fletcher, the author of this exposition, is a minister in the leadership team at Emmanuel, Wimbledon.