Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
Read Luke 12:13-21
Do you remember from what film the following saying comes? “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The motion picture was: Cool Hand Luke. Paul Newman played Luke, a convict, who had trouble obeying the rules. He suffered as he learned some obedience.
In the Biblical setting what we have are two brothers for whom it has become difficult to communicate. It is so sad that that the relationship between two brothers has become so strained that they cannot even talk to one another. Distribution of an inheritance was a problem! It may have been that one brother just would not take “no” for an answer and kept bringing up the inheritance question every time they got together. It may have been that every time they got together they ended up shouting at one another. Perhaps the older brother was looking out for the younger brother and the younger one resented him for doing so … making him feel like a minor. It may have been that the younger brother felt trapped and questioned whether his older brother would ever share the inheritance. We don’t know the particulars, but what we do know is that two brothers had reached the point where they could no longer communicate and so the younger one asked Jesus to serve as judge or arbitrator over his brother.
The arbitrator recognizes that as serious as the communication problem is, what is worse is the greed … possibly by the older brother unwilling to share or by the younger brother who has yet to prove that he knows how to manage properly his finances. The older brother is eager to hold on to the money while the younger one is anxious to get his hand on his share. Jesus then warns of the danger of greed … of assuming that one’s life consists in the abundance of possessions. Jesus then tells a parable about a man whose wealth outgrows his barns. He tears down the old barns and builds bigger ones to store his grain and goods. With such a retirement plan in place, he feels that he can eat, drink, and be merry. The only problem is that he will die that night and to whom will his property then belong?
This story reminds us of the fragility of life and that none of us knows how many days, weeks, months, and years will be granted to us. This story reminds us to beware of greed and esteeming it to be of greater value than a filial or familial relationship. This story reminds us to prepare for the future by being good stewards of our wealth and assigning to whom we want our estate to go. Last and certainly not least, this story reminds us to work towards resolving those conflicts that estrange people from their parents, brothers, sisters, children, or other family members.
O Lord, it is so sad when brothers, sisters, parents, children, and other family members become estranged and no longer communicate. Keep us mindful that life is short and none of us knows even whether we will see tomorrow. Guard us from greed and help us to be good stewards of what we have accrued in life. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.