Financial Stewardship Studies in Luke
- A SELFISH REQUEST
READ: Luke 12:13-21; James 4:1-5
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13)
John Grisham’s novel The Testament opens with the dying words of a man who will soon be parted from all his money. These are his last thoughts on earth:
I’m an old man, lonely and unloved, sick and hurting and tired of living. I am ready for the hereafter; it has to be better than this… My assets exceed eleven billion dollars. I own silver in Nevada and copper in Montana and coffee in Kenya and coal in Angola and rubber in Malaysia and natural gas in Texas and crude oil in Indonesia and steel in China. My companies own companies… My money is the root of my misery. I had three families—three ex-wives who bore seven children, six of whom are still alive and doing all they can to torment me…. I am estranged from all the wives and all the children. They’re gathering here today because I’m dying and it’s time to divide the money. (1)
Whether rich or poor, this is how life always ends: the dead leave it all behind, and the living divide whatever is left. Yet the living are not always satisfied with the way things get divided. This was certainly true of the man in the crowd who said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).
The situation is all-too familiar. A man had died, and two sons were squabbling over the money he had left behind. Both men wanted to get what they had coming to them. One of them was sure he was get- ting shortchanged, so he asked Jesus to adjudicate. Only that is not quite what he was asking. He was not looking for an objective opinion about a fair distribution; he wanted Jesus to settle the estate in his favor.
Jesus had been teaching people how to take a spiritual stand, fearlessly living for Christ against all opposition. But rather than listening to what Jesus was saying, the man was preoccupied with his own situation. He wanted his rights! So he did what people sometimes do when they are having a disagreement: he asked a spiritual leader to get involved, in the hope that he would settle the matter by telling other people what they needed to hear. Yet Jesus refused to get involved. In fact, he gave the man the brush-off, saying, with obvious disapproval, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14).
Jesus was clear about his calling. One day he would stand in judgment over everyone for everything. But the day for judgment had not yet come, and in his earthly ministry, it was not his calling to resolve this dispute. Israel had a legal system for settling small claims. But Jesus had come to seek and to save the lost.
How important it is to know the difference between what we are and what we are not called to do. We are not called to do everything, including some things that we are asked and able to do. To know what things God truly wants us to do, we need to be clear about our calling, as Jesus was. In this case, it was not his place to decide who got what, but to challenge people about their ultimate priorities. He was “not showing indifference to the claims of legal justice, but was insisting that there is a greater gain than getting an inheritance and a greater loss than losing it.” (2)
1. John Grisham, The Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 1-2.
2. D. G. Miller, Saint Luke (London: SCM Press, 1959), 110.
Have you been in a family or business dispute over money? Or in a situation where you feel you did not get what you deserved? How did this affect you spiritually? How did it affect your relationships? What did it reveal about your priorities? What sorts of things do you think and speak about most throughout the week? How is this demonstrated in the way you spent money this past week? What are Jesus’ priorities for you? What steps are you taking to make Jesus’ priorities your own?
Lord, grant me the grace to forsake the desire for possessions so that I may be free to pursue your desire for the eternal wellbeing of sinners. In Jesus’ name, and for his sake. Amen.