It’s easy to forget that the controversy bringing Jesus to discuss the importance of lasting, heavenly treasure—and the folly of a “rich fool”—all started with a debate over an inheritance. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (you can read the text here), a man in the crowd asks of our Lord. Jesus, likely known far and wide among people of his day for being a stickler when it came to justice for the oppressed, sensed something not quite right in the request. “Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” he replies. Whether it was the sticky matter of an inheritance between brothers or what I like to call “the problem of another question behind the question,” Jesus does not insert himself into the squabble. Perhaps sensing an issue of conflict within this family, he responds instead by telling a parable. It is the parable of the Rich Fool. “Take care and be on your guard against covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” he warns. Folks often read the parable as a lesson in the need to de-clutter earthly possessions and become better stewards of them, and that isn’t wrong. It’s just that the context of the parable brings out an often overlooked element in this text: how the desire for things that may not necessarily be bad in themselves can impact human relationships for the worse.
Disputes over inheritances bringing out something less than the best in people is still a thing, I discovered recently. Last year when an unknown bank account of my parents (called home to heaven several years ago) came to light, my brother and I were unceremoniously introduced to the complications of the laws governing such matters in the State of Virginia. And something tells me that Virginia is no exception. All we wanted to do was to close the matter and be done with it. But the laws, carefully constructed to insure that all was being done under the watchful eye of the government, required trips to Virginia, an appearance in county court for probate, meetings or phone conversations with lawyers, fees paid to this entity or that…in other words, all sorts of gyrations that were inconvenient, to say the least! Yet all ended happily, without issue. Might things have been different, without such safeguards in place?
How susceptible we all are to elevating things over people, who are so precious in God’s sight! How undeserved the gift of salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus! In the end, the question over inheritances first posed to Jesus the day he told his parable of a rich fool is a wonderful “coincidence.” I say, “coincidence” because the treasure of heaven that awaits those who find forgiveness of sins and life in Jesus is often described by St. Paul and St. Peter as just that: an “inheritance”: “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:4-7).
Where is a focus on bright shiny objects blinding you to the valuable PEOPLE that God has put in your life? Let’s look to the grace of God to more faithfully let go of “things” and more meaningfully embrace the people who are all around us. Who knows what sort of legacy God will empower us to leave behind?