A Modern Business Parable

Last week I was traveling and did not have time to write a new blog. Therefore I have decided to share with you one of my favorite modern parables that I used in my February 9, 2015 blog.

There is a parable in the book of Luke (12:15-21) that has a great deal of relevance to people in the world of business. John Ortberg has taken this parable and retells it in a modern setting. Although he lengthens the story a good bit, he drives home the core truth that Jesus was teaching in the parable.

There was a very successful man who owned a very successful business. Like many successful people, he was consumed with his work. He did what it took to get the job done. Even when he wasn’t working, his mind would always drift back to the business.

At home his wife was continually trying to get him to slow down, to spend more time at home. He was vaguely aware that the kids were growing up, and he was missing it. However the kids had come to the point of not expecting much from him.

He would continually think to himself, “I will be more available next year when things settle down. He, however, never seems to notice that things do not ever settle down.

He continually reminds himself and his wife, “I am doing it for you and the kids.”

His wife urges him to go to church, and he goes on occasion, but he prefers to sleep in because it is the only day to do so. He would have more time for church when things settle down.

One night he felt a twinge of pain in his chest, and his wife rushes him to the hospital. He has suffered a mild heart attack. His doctor informs him of the changes that he must make in his lifestyle. So he cuts down on red meat and ice cream, and he begins an exercise program. Soon he feels much better, and all the pain goes away. Eventually he lets things slide, reminding himself that he will get in better shape when things settle down.

One day, the CFO of his company comes in to see him. He is told by the CFO that the business is booming to the point that “we cannot keep up with all of the orders. We have to chance to strike the ‘mother lode.’ If we can catch this wave we can all be set for life. However, we need larger facilities, new equipment, and the new state-of-the-art technology and delivery systems to keep up with all our orders.”

So the man becomes more consumed with his work, every waking moment is devoted to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

He tells his wife, “You know what this means, don’t you? When I am through with this new phase, I will be able to relax. We will be set for life. I have covered all the bases, prepared for every contingency. We will be financially secure and can finally take all those trips you have been wanting to go on.” She, of course, had heard this before, and so she did not get her hopes up too much.

At about 11 o’clock that night, she tells her husband she is going to bed and asks him if he is ready to go up with her. “You go ahead. I will be up in a minute. I have one thing I want to finish…” as he sat in front of his computer.

She goes up, falls asleep, and wakes up at 3 in the morning. She realizes her husband is not in bed. She goes downstairs to get him and finds him asleep in front of the computer. She reaches out to wake him, but his skin is cold. He does not respond. She gets a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach and dials 911.

When the paramedics arrive they tell her that he died of a massive heart attack some hours ago.

His death is the major item of discussion in the financial community. His extensive obituary was written up in all of the newspapers. It is a shame he was dead, for he would have loved to have read all the good things written about him.

They have a memorial service, and because of his prominence, the whole community comes out for it. Several people get up to eulogize him at the service. One said, “He was one of the leading entrepreneurs of the day. He was a real leader.” Another said, “He was a real innovator in new technology and delivery systems.” A third said, “He was a man of principles, would never cheat anyone.” It was noted by many that he was a pillar in the community and was known and liked by everyone. His life was truly a success.

Then they buried him, and they all went home. Late that night, in the cemetery, an angel of God comes along and makes his way through all of the markers and tombstones. He stands before this man’s memorial tombstone and tracks with his finger the single word God has chosen to summarize this man’s life. If you are familiar with the parable, you know the word. “Fool.”

Listen to Jesus’ simple and direct conclusion to the parable in Luke 12: 20-21:

You fool! This very night your soul is required of you, and now who will own what you have
prepared? So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (and
the things of God).

It strikes me that this man was very wealthy in regard to the things of this world, but he was impoverished when it came to the true riches of life. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul. He had once been a prominent, wealthy Pharisee, but then he had to sacrifice it all when he became a Christian. He later remarked that he was financially poor, and in fact owned nothing; however, in reality he possessed all the things in life that really counted (II Corinthians 6:10). Paul had found the true riches of life.

Also, this parable should put a healthy fear in each of our lives. We should all fear that we could actually invest our entire lives in the pursuit of that which does not matter.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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