It feels like we live in a divided country. But nothing divides more than inheritance. It sicks brother against brother. Sister against sister. Inheritance is not the blessing of ongoing protection but the curse of future division.
In my own family, I’ve seen family members force a sibling to pay a double share while a spouse negotiated one for herself. I’ve seen questioning of care and finances and decisions. I’ve watched sisters bear the brunt of care and brothers feel excluded. Money. Pride. Hurt. Pain.Protection isn't inherited, it's found daily. Click To Tweet
Proper 13C | Luke 12:13-21
Of course, it isn’t supposed to be this way. Inheritance is supposed to be protection. It is supposed to be a safety net. It isn’t supposed to be something expected or earned. It’s supposed to help. We’re supposed to think of it like a protection plan. Just in case our appliance breaks, we can deal with what happens. Only for our families.
No matter how much, we try to protect ourselves and our loved ones, things still happen. No matter how much we try to protect ourselves from pain and suffering, we still suffer. No matter how smart we think we are, our brains won’t protect us from our wills.
Law and Order.
We want certainty. We want life arbitration. We want some divine teacher to tell us what to do. Or more specifically: to take our side and make our argument for us.
This is the context of our gospel today, here in the middle of Luke. All these people gathering: some to love him, some curious about him, some are just so skeptical.
This man comes up to Jesus and tries to get him to be his arbitrator. Like this is what Jesus does. He gets in the middle and scolds one brother against the other. Get in line, Buddy!
Luke gives us the clue that we aren’t to trust this guy because he calls Jesus Teacher. We know this from before, right? In the gospel we call Luke, people who follow don’t call him Teacher, they call him Lord! We learn from teachers. We follow our Lord.
He wants something from Jesus. He doesn’t want to hear him. He doesn’t want to be moved by him. He doesn’t want to be changed by him.
He wants to take advantage of him.
Since last week’s gospel (when Jesus taught them what to pray) Jesus is confronted and called a tool of the devil. He is confronted at a second dinner party with Pharisees because he didn’t wash his hands. And he taught his followers to shine their lights and trust in the Spirit.
The Pharisees, the purity police are coming after Jesus. They want to protect the faith from Jesus!
They don’t want Jesus to talk about power and economics. They don’t want Jesus to hang out with the wrong crowd. They don’t want him talking about love being more important than their human boundaries. They don’t want him talking about power and corruption. They don’t want him undermining their authority and their power in the system. They don’t want him saying anything that challenges their worldview. They don’t want him saying anything that challenges their status. They don’t want him saying anything that challenges them. That makes them think. That makes them deal with their own sin. Their own power. Their own place.
Man, that sounds familiar. That sounds like something which challenges us to look at ourselves.
The Wrong Question.
That’s why this parable, often called The Parable of the Rich Fool is so challenging–to this man and to us. We have trouble hearing what Jesus is actually saying. We’re busy feeling accosted by him. By these ways of hearing his voice which challenge our place and security.
What prompts this parable is that Jesus is trying to show the man that he is asking the wrong question. Or, better, making the wrong demand when he should be asking a better question. His demand:
“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
comes from his sense of injustice: of a brother taking advantage of him. But Jesus responds by telling a story which answers a question he doesn’t ask. By doing this, Jesus reveals to him what is wrong with his worldview: Its zero-sum. I’m cheated. Make him share. Its our inheritance. My half is mine. But it isn’t his.
And Jesus’s story shows how foolish that thinking is. Your abundance is yours. So you think. Your abundance which you have to spend so you can hoard. Just in case. Build new silos. Rent a storage unit. Buy a bigger house. Collect more stuff. It is yours. All yours. Protect it. Don’t let it fall into the hands of others. Just in case. You might need it. Keep it.
Just in case.
You might need it. Keep it. Next year might be awful. Screw what GOD told the people in the desert to eat only today’s food and come back tomorrow. Screw what GOD told Moses about deliverance and protection from the safety of Egyptian slavery. Screw what GOD told the prophets about welcome, hospitality, faith.
And while we’re at it, screw what Jesus says about going out into the world with only the clothes on our backs. Screw what Jesus says about trusting in GOD. Let’s hoard stuff just in case. Let’s protect our faith from Jesus. He’s got some pretty dangerous ideas.
Give it away.
Like giving it away. That’s his answer. It isn’t about protecting your stuff. You can’t protect yourself from pain and suffering. You can’t hoard your riches in hopes that you’ll never know poverty AND be faithful to GOD. A GOD who wants nothing more than to be with you in love and in hardship. To be with you in hope and in crises of faith.
The man asks the wrong question because the inheritance isn’t his. Wealth isn’t ours. We can’t hoard it faithfully. The question is what should we do with abundance. What should we do when times are good? What should we do when others are struggling and we aren’t? What should we do when times are really, really good?
We share. We share that goodness. We share that wealth, that joy. We share that sense of security and hope. We share that sense of blessing and new life. It isn’t ours to keep. Ours to hold onto. We share. We give it away. Because tomorrow is a new day. With tomorrow comes new opportunities. New manna. New blessings. New chances at love. Chances we don’t get when we’re hording our stuff today.
Love GOD more than stuff.
This parable reminds us of the story of the pious young man. He comes looking to inherit eternal life and ends up running away. Jesus tells him to give his stuff away and he cries because he has a lot of stuff. In Luke’s telling, he’s a ruler. With power and influence. What he is giving up isn’t just stuff, possessions: it’s power. Place in society. Respect.
To become low. Giving up followers to become a follower. Giving up wealth on earth to gain wealth in the kindom. In the new family. In the new people. In the new royalty of equality.
When we read the gospel, we often think Jesus is talking about the number of shirts in our closets. And how many place settings are in our cabinets. How big our TVs are or how many devices we have. And our sense of protecting ourselves grows even stronger. We think money in the bank will keep our church from dying. But the only thing that will kill a church is a faulty heart.
If we want a future, it won’t come through financial protection. It won’t come from hoarding or saving. It won’t come through expectations of inheritance or the division that comes from fighting over how we spend our money. It won’t come from our selfish desires and unrealized dreams. It won’t come from trying to reclaim a past long gone. That’s what Jesus calls foolish. Don’t protect the faith from Jesus! It doesn’t need protecting. Neither does our future.
Our future is in our Lord. In Jesus. Our future is in faith. Our future is in hope and love. Our future is in our commitment to the community and to those left out of it. Our future is in replacing our kingdom with GOD’s kindom.
Our future is in serving the students across the street. And Rose Hulman, St. Mary’s, and Ivy Tech.
Our future is in serving the homeless at Fairbanks Park.
Our future is in praying, serving, and learning with our 7th Street neighbors.
Our future is in loving our friends who are here and those who can’t make it out for Sunday mornings.
Our future is in building relationships with the downtown, with the artists and entrepreneurs.
Our future is in embracing Jesus’s radical welcome; in loving all our neighbors:
Our LGBTQ neighbors
Our student neighbors
Our black neighbors
Our Arabic neighbors
Our Native American neighbors
Our Asian neighbors
Our first responding neighbors
Our faculty neighbors
Our business neighbors
Our homeless neighbors
Our working poor neighbors
Our broke neighbors
Our mentally ill neighbors
Our sick neighbors
Our incarcerated neighbors
Loving all our neighbors for who they are. Loving them in their difference.
Not only loving them, but sharing with them, giving of ourselves. Seeking justice for them. Sharing our wealth. Sharing our power. Sharing our place in society. Becoming the kindom.
That’s our inheritance.
The kindom. But it doesn’t come when we rip each other off or leave each other in the gutter. It doesn’t arrive when we act like spoiled brats, selfish and entitled. It doesn’t come because we go to church and are good people like the pious young man.
It comes when we follow Jesus out into the street and make his ways known. It comes when we get down into that gutter and help our brothers and sisters up. It comes when we see our brothers and sisters on death row as our brothers and sisters. And Jesus has a few things to say about tossing stones at a sister out of our own righteousness.
This is an inheritance we earn. Grace is free, but the kindom costs. With our sweat and our drive. In the streets. In the soup kitchens. In the shelters. In the classroom. In the laundromat. In the shopping mall. We earn it when we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Claim that inheritance. Claim the kindom.