"Someone in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.'" - Luke 12:13
My parents joke that when they die, their kids won't fight over money. There isn't any. It's true. They never made much, we lived modestly. But one Christmas we got surprise checks in our stockings—big ones, measured by our family's economy. And we've gotten them every year since.
That first time, my brother studied his check wide-eyed and exclaimed, "Ten thousand dollars?" The rest of us gulped and re-read ours. They were not for ten grand. He was just kidding, of course, but our anxiety shot up anyway. We made a tradition out of his joke. Every year one of us waves our check aloft, crying, "Ten thousand dollars?", while the rest feign indignation.
Well, maybe it's not so feigned. Human nature being what it is, an entitled little demon in our hearts now banks on those checks. If one year they don't show up, you can bet we'll all be wondering if "everybody but me" received one on the sly.
A man complains to Jesus that his brother won't share the inheritance. Jesus knows settling it won't settle anything, the damage is done. The brothers are now competitors, not kin. Greed has many waste products, someone once wrote, human estrangement being the worst.
Greed often signals that we're in denial about mortality. So Jesus tells the man about a fool who crammed stuff into big barns and then dropped dead. How pathetic, he says, to have used up your one and only life accumulating stuff you didn't have and wanted, or protecting stuff you accumulated and feared somebody would take.
What's grim is not that we die, but that accumulating and protecting take up the lion's share of our lives. What's deadly is not dying, but choosing an estranged life over a modest one, a life spiritually alone over one truly shared, unnecessary stuff over necessary love.
Teach me your spendthrift ways, O God, so that when death comes, it will find little left to take from me. Remove the anxiety of more or less, and give me the peace of enough and enough, for Jesus' sake and my neighbors' good. Amen.
J. Mary Luti is Visiting Professor of Worship and Preaching at Andover Newton Theological School.