Luke 12:13-15 “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”
All my life I have been surrounded by a relatively high standard of living. By modern American standards, I don’t believe you would say my family now, or the one I grew up in, is rich. But we have always enjoyed plenty. Some of my neighbors and friends have qualified to be called “rich,” even by modern day standards. Like you, I have grown up in a culture and economy driven by the pursuit of wealth. Some would say that greed is necessary to make it all work. But most of us probably don’t even sense the spiritual danger in which we have been living.
Jesus was not pleased with the request someone in the crowd blurted out as he was teaching them: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Does this man’s request seem unreasonable to you? Isn’t it right for family members to divide the inheritance? And who would be more qualified to make sure that all of this was done fairly than Jesus?
The first problem with the man’s request was that it misunderstands Jesus’ mission. He came to save the world from sin. He didn’t come to save us from tight-fisted family members. Misunderstanding Jesus’ mission is still a problem for many. He may have had opinions about politics, culture, or legal issues. But by and large he kept them to himself. He did not come to be our judge and arbiter in these areas.
Jesus’ next comment reveals that he understands a greater problem with the man’s request. “Then he said to them, ‘Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” Jesus isn’t necessarily saying the man’s case was not valid. What he wanted may have been “fair.” But his motivations were wrong. The case the man had framed in his own mind as a matter of fairness was really driven by greed. He was mostly concerned about getting more for himself.
Greed has a subtle way of hiding itself behind all kinds of noble sounding ideas and activities. If the inheritance was divided, but the family ended up divided along with it, what had been gained? There are things more important than money. “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” It’s true, life doesn’t consist in our family relationships, either. It does consist in our restored relationship with our heavenly Father, restored by the selfless sacrificial death for our sins by our heavenly brother Jesus. Where God has generously and freely given us forgiveness, faith, and new life, what do we need all that other stuff for?
Can we miss the timeliness of Jesus’ warning, “Be on guard against greed”? Is there anyone who doesn’t know some family affected by disputes over an inheritance? Maybe it’s your own. Some are inclined to think of money matters as personal matters. But greed is never just a personal matter. It affects the people around you. It ruins relationships. Nothing our parents, grandparents, or great aunts own is worth ruining a relationship to have, even if we think it rightfully ought to belong to us.
Jesus doesn’t limit his warning to inheritance. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…” Do you know the number one reason that marriages fall apart? It has to do with money. Does money ever turn people against each other where greed is not also involved? We might better apply Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians who were taking their fellow believers to court. “Why not rather be wronged?”
In business, employers and employees ought to be teammates, pulling together for the same cause. Greed often turns them into competitors, fighting for a greater share of the profits. Even in the church tensions arise over money problems. If we are honest about the source of that problem, more often than not you can trace it back to our greed. One reason Jesus urges us to be on guard against greed, then, is the way it ruins relationships.
Jesus has better things to do than feed our greed. We have better things to do than obsess about money, too.