Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said, “Friend, who set me to be arbitrator over you?” - Luke 12:13-14 (NRSV)
I saw this bumper sticker on a massive new RV: “We’re spending our kids' inheritance!” Funny. But I wonder how the kids feel about it. Maybe they’re chuckling, too. Or maybe they’re worried that the old geezers really mean it. What did that big rig cost, anyway? How much did it reduce their shares?
Bumper stickers aren’t necessarily windows into family dynamics. Still, it’s wretchedly routine that after parents drive off to the great RV hook-up in the sky, the kids get lawyers. Maybe spending the inheritance is the ultimate parental gift. Run through it now so they won’t fight over it later. Let ’em hate us, not each other.
An anxious man in the crowd worries he’s not getting his share. He wants Jesus to judge, but Jesus doesn’t do probate. It’s too late, anyway. As someone observed, if you’re willing to enlist a third party against your brother, the damage is already done. They won’t ever regard each other the same way they did before an estate came between them.
Greed wears many masks; in this case, aggrieved injury. It also has many waste products, human estrangement being the worst. Jesus refuses to increase it.
In the parable that follows, he tells us we can’t take anything with us when we die. Which we will. But he’s not just censuring pointless accumulation. He’s also inviting us to contemplate the potential for human loss in material gain—the way the heart ices over as cold cash inhabits the space in us reserved for love.
Good Jesus, money matters. We need it. But don’t let me damage relationships to get it.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.