Click here, Luke 12:13-21, for an easy to print or email Adobe PDF version of this note.
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Hermanson, "to be added."
Well for some reason, the creators of the Lectionary have skipped over most of Chapter 11 - going from last week's, Luke 11:1-13, lesson about prayer and hospitality to this text.
So we could be blithely traveling along with Jesus through August without being aware that back in Chapter 11, Jesus had so insulted the religious authorities (Luke 11:45) that:
When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
I believe it is crucial to know this so that we don't read this and the other teachings that follow as being similar in tone and context as Luke 11:1, "Lord, teach us to pray." We are now in the midst of serious conflict and challenge.
Verse 13. But let's assume that the "someone" in the crowd is not an agent of the authorities and is making an honest request of Jesus to arbitrate a dispute between brothers.
Verse 14. Anyone in any leadership position should note that Jesus refuses to engage in "mission creep." That is, Jesus does NOT do what is requested because it is not part of his mission. Healing? Teaching? Proclaiming? All are OK. Acting as an arbitrator? No.
Verse 15. At the time of Jesus, the brother requesting the division of the inheritance would be seen as greedy - the brother would be trying acquire for his own personal possession a share of the family inheritance. Reducing the family's inheritance for personal gain is greedy, and "was always considered stealing." (Malina and Rohrbaugh, page 277, see footnote below. Emphasis is original.) Thus, Jesus comment is a logical response to the brother's request.
Verses 16 to 21. Malina and Rohrbaugh (Page 278, see footnote below.) helpfully comment on the parable:
An honorable man would be interested in what was rightfully his, meaning what he already had. He would not want "more." Anyone with a surplus would normally feel shame unless he gave liberally to ... the community. By keeping everything to himself and refusing to act (generously), the rich man in the parable reveals himself as a dishonorable fool.
While Jesus does not ALWAYS attack wealth, this parable reflects a consistent theme of his teachings: Possessions possess us. Care for possessions makes it more difficult to truly care for what God cares for. Possessions distract us from the fullness of life. Possessions distract us from true wealth; from what is rich in the eyes of God.
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (see link below), pages 277-278.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
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