13 One of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?" 15 And he said to them, "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." 16 And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; 17 and he thought to himself, `What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' 18 And 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 But God said to him, `Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21 So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
Meditation: Have you ever tried to settle a money
dispute or an inheritance issue? Inheritance disputes are rarely
ever easy to resolve, especially when the relatives or close
associates of the deceased benefactor cannot agree on who should
get what and who should get the most. Why did Jesus refuse to
settle an inheritance dispute between two brothers? He saw that
the heart of the issue was not justice or fairness but rather
greed and possessiveness.
Loving possessions rather than loving my neighbor
The ten commandments were summarized into two prohibitions - do not worship false idols and do not covet what belongs to another. It's the flip side of the two great commandments - love God and love your neighbor. Jesus warned the man who wanted half of his brother's inheritance to "beware of all covetousness." To covet is to wish to get wrongfully what another possesses or to begrudge what God has given to another. Jesus restates the commandment "do not covet", but he also states that a person's life does not consist in the abundance of his or her possessions.
August of Hippo (354-430 AD) comments on Jesus' words to the brother who wanted more:
Greed wants to divide, just as love desires to gather. What is the significance of 'guard against all greed,' unless it is 'fill yourselves with love?' We, possessing love for our portion, inconvenience the Lord because of our brother just as that man did against his brother, but we do not use the same plea. He said, 'Master, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' We say, 'Master, tell my brother that he may have my inheritance.' (Sermon 265.9)
The fool who was possessed by his riches
Jesus reinforces his point with a parable about a foolish rich man (Luke 12:16-21). Why does Jesus call this wealthy landowner a fool? Jesus does not fault the rich man for his industriousness and skill in acquiring wealth, but rather for his egoism and selfishness - it's mine, all mine, and no one else's. This parable is similar to the parable of the rich man who refused to give any help to the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich fool had lost the capacity to be concerned for others. His life was consumed with his possessions and his only interests were in himself. His death was the final loss of his soul! What is Jesus' lesson on using material possessions? It is in giving that we receive. Those who are rich towards God receive ample reward - not only in this life - but in eternity as well.
Where is your treasure?
In this little parable Jesus probes our heart - where is your treasure? Treasure has a special connection to the heart, the place of desire and longing, the place of will and focus. The thing we most set our heart on is our highest treasure. What do you treasure above all else?
3 You turn man back to the dust, and say, "Turn back, O children of men!"
4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us, yes, the work of our hands establish it.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: Surrounded by wealth, blind to charity, by Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD)
"'What does the rich man do, surrounded by a great supply of many
blessings beyond all numbering? In distress and anxiety, he speaks
the words of poverty. He says, 'What should I do?' ... He does not
look to the future. He does not raise his eyes to God. He does not
count it worth his while to gain for the mind those treasures that
are above in heaven. He does not cherish love for the poor or desire
the esteem it gains. He does not sympathize with suffering. It gives
him no pain nor awakens his pity. Still more irrational, he settles
for himself the length of his life, as if he would also reap this
from the ground. He says, 'I will say to myself, "Self, you have
goods laid up for many years. Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself." 'O
rich man,' one may say, "You have storehouses for your fruits, but
where will you receive your many years? By the decree of God, your
life is shortened." 'God,' it tells us, 'said to him, "You fool,
this night they will require of you your soul. Whose will these
things be that you have prepared?" (excerpt from COMMENTARY
ON LUKE, HOMILY 89)