Someone cries out from the crowd to Jesus: Tell my brother to give me the share of the inheritance that should have come to me.
How often down through the ages have disputes arisen over what should have been given and what should not have been given to people on the death of a relative? How often has land and possessions of people been fought over, argued over, fallen out over, even spilled blood over. That old clock, that piece of jewelry, that house, that bank book, that money, that land should have come to me, we hear people say. It is remembered for generations, some trickery outwitted a family member, some devious deed is remembered for generations, that what was rightly meant for them has been stolen or taken from them. It can be a ‘touchy’ subject in family life.
Jesus refuses to get involved when asked by the man in the crowd. Who appointed me the arbiter of your claims? The referee in your dispute. Why should I be judge in this matter?
Instead, Jesus flips the question put to him about inheritance but how you get your wealth in the first place, what you do with your wealth and what ultimately is the use of wealth to you. The question is turned on its head – not what happens later but what happens now in your life. He turns a simple question about inheritance into a question about where priorities lie in life, what you think are your values and things that are important. What things are real and lasting goals and things that remain and are important.
And he does it in this way - he gets the people to imagine a landowner doing well. This would have been very agreeable to them, the man has successful harvest, he has good prices, he has good returns. Their interest would have increased hearing that the man had done so well that the barns weren’t big enough to keep the harvest, bigger barns were needed. Even better. It would have seemed very pleasing to them that the wealthy landowner could put up his feet, take his ease, eat, drink have a good time. What is wrong with that?
But the sting in the tale comes at the end – what happens if it all ends, if suddenly it is all taken away. What has it all been for.
I would have been a deeply troubling question. Yes, he may have been able to give or pass on his money to others after his death, He may have made his family more secure and richer. But it is a deeply existential question what does life come down to, pursuing money, wealth, more possession and bigger barns? For some it does, is that all, is that what life come down to? Is this all you have got to show for life in the end.
The man who asks Jesus to tell his brother to give him the share of the inheritance gets more than he bargains for, he gets a lecture on money, possession and wealth. He gets a lecture on where his priorities and values lie. And is questioned about what he thinks is of lasting value in life. What he is working for, what he is toiling for?
Although there is certainly hardship in having no money and having not enough money. Having money doesn’t solve everything. There is vanity and emptiness in having money. We think it makes us more secure, often it doesn’t The more you have the more you want. When you have more it is never quite enough for you want. You may be fortunate to have enough, you may have to build bigger barns, but what does it buy you, happiness, contentment, lasting things? Often, although it is true that poor people can be unhappy and wretched rich people can be even more unhappy. Unhappy because enough is never enough. Unhappy because it becomes the goal in life to have more.
Work for lasting things, gain treasure for yourself in heaven. Those words are not an appeal to be unworldly, unrealistic, impracticable, to have your head in the sky what’s being suggested isn’t something unworkable or pie in the sky. What is here is a prudent and wise truth. Don’t pursue castles in the air, don’t worship false Gods, don’t put your trust in fool’s gold. Work for things that last, that remain, that are important, that last, don’t work for things that are like sand and slip through your fingers.
Work for things that remain and are a treasure in heaven. That seems like good advice at the end of the day. A watchful eye for real goals in life. A healthy distrust for money, that it doesn’t end up owning us.