Inheritances can be a terrible source of stress for families. The first ever funeral I presided over was graveside with everyone standing, yet they still managed to have a centre aisle. A fight over inheritance had already formed the family into two distinct camps. And I had to decide which of two receptions I would attend! So if you want to avoid fights over your possessions when you die, spend you children’s inheritances well!
Inheritance was a thorny issue for a man who seeks the help of Jesus: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13 NRSV). Jesus goes on to speak not about relationships and conflict resolution as one might expect, but money: “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’” (Luke 12:15 NRSV) Then follows a parable about an inheritance:
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? ’ 18 Then 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; relax, eat, drink, be merry. ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21 NRSV)
The fool in the parable is foolish for three reasons.
First, the fool is keeping an abundance for himself. ‘I’ shows up a lot in his thinking. In fact the only conversation he has is with himself. When you look at your plans for your abundance, your budget, does ‘I’ show up a lot? And when you look at the expenses column, how much of that has been on treasures you can not keep?
20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? . . . 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:20,33 NRSV)
Second, the fool may be keeping an abundance for a rainy day that may never come. How many of us think ahead and fret over the troubles that may come upon us? And we build our abundance to ensure we will be okay when the rains of trouble fall. We do not know if they will ever fall on us, but we do know that they are already falling on others. We can help others from our abundance, but we won’t if we are overly stressing over our own future.
22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens:they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow:they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. (Luke 12:22-30 NRSV)
This does not mean that we should not plan for the future, and planning ahead for potential unforeseen financial difficulties is wise. But there is a fine line between between worry about, and proper concern for, between obsessing over, and taking responsibility for.
Third, in hoarding an abundance, the fool is able to relax:
Then 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; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:18-19 NRSV)
Isn’t relaxing a good thing? Yes, and the Lord makes provision for it through commanding Sabbath rest. But the Kingdom is not built through relaxation. What potential Kingdom projects would never see the light of day because the fool was taking it easy? He had so much potential that was about to go to waste.
I am reminded of a slogan popular among atheists recently: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ Some Christians responded with ‘There is a God, Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ Either way, that sentiment could lead to a lot of wasted potential. With Jesus it is rather: “Jesus is Lord, now stop worrying and pick up your cross and follow.” Stop worrying about abundance, but show concern for a hurting world. We are not to obsess over our own abundance, but we are to obsess over Christ’s Kingdom and the abundance of love that is part and parcel of it.
31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:31-34 NRSV)