In Luke 12: 13-21 we read the story of a man who approached Jesus to ask him to arbitrate in a dispute he was having with his brother: “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” It is a reasonable request. He was not asking to inherit more than his brother; he just wanted Jesus to advocate on a matter of basic fairness.
Note how Jesus responded. He said to the man “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Since when is seeking to be fair, the same thing as being greedy? If that is not confusing enough, Jesus continues by telling a story about a rich landowner who carefully stores his wealth in order to prepare for his retirement only to learn that his life is about to end: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
What is wrong with planning ahead, with saving for a rainy day? with making prudent choices when it comes to managing our assets?
Perhaps the pertinent lesson from this passage is this: We need to stop assuming that our nearest and dearest concerns are necessarily God’s. Like the man who asked Jesus to arbitrate in the matter of his inheritance, we too are sticklers for equity and fairness. Like the rich man in the parable, We tend to think that we are also entitled to do what we want with our own hard-earned money.
How often do politicians keep telling us, when it comes to paying tax, that we should be permitted to keep more of what we earn for ourselves. We have heard it over and over again during the current Conservative leadership campaign, from the contenders seeking to be the next Leader of the Conservative Party and the next Prime Minister. But is not paying tax about sharing wealth and, therefore, about the redistribution wealth, so that the poorest in our society have a more generous share of the cake, rather than just what is left over? We may disagree with the profligate way the government spends the revenue It collects from us while neglecting those suffering so much hardship but that is another matter. It certainly is not what we have been hearing from those politicians seeking the support of those voting them into office.
Some of you would suggest that in saying that, I am treading on dangerous ground by bringing politics into the pulpit! Jesus would not agree. He certainly did not avoid controversy, especially when it meant turning a blind eye to the obstinate blindness which overlooked the suffering and alienation of so many people.
Like the man in the parable, we tend to compartmentalise our lives into convenient “private and “public” affairs, “secular” and “sacred” interests. So loving our brothers (or sisters, or neighbours) as ourselves has little to do with sharing our assets or wealth.
Jesus sees things differently. Where we see in part, Jesus sees the bigger picture. Where we see what is impacting on the surface of our lives, Jesus sees into the depths of our hearts. Where we obsess over the immediate day to day issues, Jesus sees beyond — to the eternal!
So Jesus looked at the man embroiled in a family feud over money, and saw that his obsessive need for a fair share was distorting and embittering his heart. In the heat of his pursuit, the man who asked Jesus to settle the dispute he was having with his brother, just could not see that his inner life was in trouble. He could not see his own brother as anything more than an obstacle or a competitor.
Like the rich landowner in Jesus’ parable , who is so concerned about possible scarcity. that he cannot see the real ‘riches’ represented by Jesus standing right next to him. He is so narrowly focused on himself and on his economic affairs that he has no clear vision of the salvation Jesus offers. In his greed he reduces the Son of God to a potential asset.
Meanwhile, Jesus looked at the rich landowner revelling in his stores of grain and saw a person drowning in self-absorption; a person intoxicated by his own power; a person oblivious to his own mortality.
In the pathetic delusion of a proud, ‘self-made man ‘, Jesus saw an isolated, insecure soul who had forgotten human connection; forgotten God’s generosity and provision; forgotten that possession is not stewardship; and forgotten that in the face of Death -the great leveller – we too are dependent on the grace of God.
Revd Michael Diffey