Luke 12:13-21 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So, it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Reflection: At least two brothers are in a quarrel over their inheritance. The blessing of an abundant estate now becomes a curse that drives a wedge of contention, separation, and anger between them. One brother claims his rights and wants his fair share of the inheritance. The other brother, in sole possession of the estate, has apparently disregarded his brother’s right to the legacy.
The complainant brother asks Jesus to rule in his favor and to direct his brother to divide the inheritance of his deceased father, justly.
Jesus does not judge the case. Instead, he creates a teaching moment. The parable Jesus tells can be read as a direct allusion to the deceased father of the quarreling sons. Read in this way, the parable sheds light on the hidden will of the deceased father with regard to his spirit (attitude) and use of the abundance he possessed.
Persons and families of abundance and wealth are well-known in their local and surrounding communities. People in communities take note of where the wealthy live, what they drive, how they live, what they wear, where they vacation, what they possess, who their children are, the measure of their generosity, and how they treat people; especially their employees, those they regularly relate to, and how they relate to others outside of their socio-economic class. The sudden death of a person of wealth and abundance is instant news in a community because all know about them.
If the parable alludes to the deceased father of the sons, then Jesus is using the deceased man’s own and well-known grandiose “I” statements that were overheard and familiar to the people in the community such as: What should “I” do? “I” have no storage space. “I’ll” build larger barns. I’ll store all “my” grain and all “my” goods. “I” will relax, eat, drink, and be merry. Then, without warning, his life was demanded of him, and his estate comes into a dispute between his sons.
Children learn from their parents or guardians about how to manage and use possessions. The complaining son learned about the management and use of abundance by observing his now-deceased father. His other brother, reluctant to share the inheritance, also learned some lessons about the use of wealth and abundance from the father; that is, to keep everything for himself.
I think that Jesus was indirectly yet gently teaching the complaining son of the deceased father – and all others in the crowd within earshot – about the right spirit toward wealth and abundance. That is, wealth and abundance are a blessing, but they are ultimately a gift from God that carry responsibilities to be used for unselfish good in the world in ways that are rich toward God by being rich toward neighbor.
Prayer: God of unmerited abundance and goodness, make us mindful of the brevity of our lives and make us urgent to use the gifts you have given us to be rich toward you and our neighbor. Enable us by your Holy Spirit to seek the things that are above, where Christ is and where our life is hidden in him. Enable us with your Holy Spirit with the inward desires to do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can. (John Wesley)