For the next few articles, let’s take a look at Luke 12:13-34. This passage contains two sections, and while you or I may have studied them separately in the past, these sections are tied together with a “therefore” in verse 22, suggesting a connection between the two.
Personally, I find the first passage a little difficult to understand, and the second one to be quite difficult to follow. However, if we can understand the lead-in from the first part, maybe we can better practice the instructions in the second part.
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, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Luke 12:13-15 NIV
I suspect that rabbis – teachers – in Jesus’ day were also called upon to judge and make decisions, so it seems reasonable that someone would ask him to make a call on a dispute. After all, Moses did some of that in his day, and Israel had its share of judges, like Samson and Deborah.
However, Jesus appears to rebuke this man. Why do you think that He did so? You’re welcome to post your thoughts in the comments; here are some of mine:
- Perhaps the man was being greedy (as Jesus warned against in verse 15), and wanted what he didn’t deserve.
- Perhaps the man had other options to resolve this matter, rather than making Jesus decide.
- Perhaps the man had missed the point of Jesus’ other teachings, like turning the other cheek even if he had been harmed.
- Perhaps – in light of the upcoming parable – the man wanted to get rich quick and stop contributing to society.
- Perhaps the brother (the one managing the inheritance) wanted to use the inheritance for other purposes, rather than for himself and his brother.
- In fact, we don’t even know if this man’s (and his brother’s) father was even dead, yet. This guy could have been like the Prodigal Son, asking for his inheritance before it was time.
Jesus continues, though, with a parable, in Luke 12:16-21 (which I encourage you to read, so that the rest of this lesson makes sense!).
In this parable, note that this man is described as rich, even before he had a good year in the fields. His bumper crop wasn’t needed to pay off some debts, or just scrape by. This appears to be more like an addition to his current wealth, to the point of “I’ll never have to work again”. However, it sounds like this guy never got the chance to even build his new barns. All of that selfish intention to save up for himself was for nothing. (See Proverbs 19:21 for another reminder about this principle.)
As a commentator pointed out, “The point is not simply that ‘You can’t take it with you.’ It is, as Jesus later says, ‘Use worldly wealth…so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings’ (16:9).” [Black, p.241]
How much does this sound like our own goals in life? Don’t we want to succeed in what we do, earn an income, save money, and be able to retire? I suspect that some readers have done exactly that. Personally, I would like the opportunity to retire early, after 30 years of work, and move out of an office job into something else (although my wife wisely insists that I must keep doing something, so that I don’t get stir crazy).
So, what did the guy in this parable do wrong? Practices like saving up and preparing for the future seem like things that we’re all taught to do. Is it wrong to save for the future? Is it wrong to retire?
I don’t think that these decisions are inherently wrong, but let’s take a closer look at that in the next article. In the meantime, let’s consider the kinds of things that we ask Jesus for, and the reason why we want Him to answer in a certain way. While we can bring any request to Him, sometimes we might want to inspect our own motives, and decide to change what it is we are asking for.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for May 8, 2022
- The Lookout, May 8, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Luke, by Mark C. Black. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.