People have been fighting over inheritances since practically the beginning of time. I shared a story in a sermon not long ago about how it had even happened in my family system on the one occasion of my administration of a will. The individual disputing it was not a surprise. He had been worrying about this for decades – hoping for the best while fearing the worst, all driven by greed.
And that is the setting for the parable given by Jesus in today’s text. It is a brother who is unhappy with the way the settlement of an estate was progressing. Jesus was considered by the people as a rabbi – a teacher – and it was not uncommon in the Jewish culture for people to come to rabbis in order to have an adjudication or opinion in the midst of a controversy.
Luke 12:13 – Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
At first, this does not seem like an unreasonable request. Perhaps the man was being dealt with unjustly. The likely scenario is that this is a brother who is not the first-born son. There were particular rights that went along with the first born that included a double portion of the inheritance. So, with two sons, the eldest got two-thirds while the other received one-third.
The Scriptures comment in other places that Jesus was able to see into the hearts of individuals and know the true motivational condition of those with whom he interacted. And on this occasion he was able to see that the issue of greed was inspiring the petitioner. And to that subject he gave a warning by also giving a story … what we know as “The Parable of the Rich Fool.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Let’s make a couple of observations:
- The man was already rich and highly-blessed even before he had an unusual harvest.
- Though the man was certainly not lazy, the reason for his “abundance” was not sourced through extra work, but rather a bumper crop from the ground.
- The only consideration crossing the man’s mind was how he could keep the entire produce of the crop for himself – it never seems to cross his mind that he could give it away or share it with those in need.
- Even if future years would not produce at the same bonus rate, presumably there would be enough, so the effort to work now was to avoid work later – clearly stated in his “eat, drink and be merry attitude.”
- There is nothing to be taken from this passage to suggest that prudent planning for the future is not a good thing … but this is a matter of a person who is trusting only in himself and his own provision, rather than in God to supply.
- Conclusion: God and the eternal values of his kingdom are not in his equation.
The man presumed that he would live long and have great pleasure, but in the story we see that his life is cut short unexpectedly, and all his wealth was of no value but to be passed on to whomever might receive it.
The application is to rather be rich toward God, and in this way there can be a generous use of resources both in this world, yet also with eternal value for God and his kingdom. By this, our identity is as a steward of God – who gives us the resources to use well and wisely.
But we know that in American – beyond any country or culture in the history of the world – there is no shortage of people who rather find their identity in the accumulation of material possessions or in positions of prominence. It is as if these assets are a sort of score card or grade report that identifies them as winners and achievers.
Over the course of today and the following three days, I am going to ask a series of thought-provoking, discussion sorts of questions – one for each day.
So here is the first of four major questions this week:
Week 2, Question 1 – What are the natural motivating issues of human life that drive us (if unchecked) to desire to greedily accumulate material assets?
Come back tomorrow and we’ll think and talk about this some more.