The Beauty of Discernment


Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me’.” Luke is so subtle here. This un-named man, who appears to want to remain anonymous, is perhaps a generic stand-in for all fallen human beings. For he is us ~ not some unnamed ‘other!’ Nevertheless, and as a sign of the same sin, this man wants a particular judgement tailored to his own personal circumstances. Yet, Jesus, as he so often does when teaching, responds with generic principles that apply to everyone and to every circumstance.

This matches my own experience. When, through prayer I ask God to solve a particular problem, I often find the Spirit leading me back to deep and abiding principles, just as Jesus did with the unnamed man. By this, God prompts us to engage in a searching process of discernment. This helps us understand what our questions are really about, so we can appreciate what what we are really asking for. The discernment that God encourages within us leads us to self-awareness and greater self-perception.

A man asks Jesus to solve his financial problems by making his brother share the family inheritance. And Jesus says to him, and to everyone else in the crowd including the disciples, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…” Those are words that apply to all of us, not just to the anonymous question-asker hiding in the crowd who wants his particular problem solved. Characteristically, Jesus then tells a story to illustrate his point.

James Tissot has left us with an evocative and cautionary painting illustrating Jesus’ parable about ‘the man who hoards.’ Concerning the danger of greed, Tissot’s painting focus’ on the spiritual warning that Jesus provides. The greedy man in the story is commonly referred to as the rich fool. As this troubled man sits among his many large sacks of grain and other valuables, he ponders how to hang on to his accumulating wealth. Having more than he needs, he considers replacing his present storage barns with larger ones. In the process, his avarice takes hold of him, gravely endangering his soul. Tissot captures the spiritual seriousness of the moment by employing a symbol representing the mortal threat at the heart of the story. Unseen behind the greedy man, the power of death is symbolized by the large figure unleashing a sword.

As the disciples and others begin to perceive from their Master’s sayings and stories, Jesus’ vocation as Messiah lifts him above having merely a local role as a teacher and guide for a particular community. For Jesus’ teaching applies to all communities at all times, not just to this or that community set within a single cultural context. So, when asked to settle the unnamed man’s case concerning inheritance, Jesus’ reply should not surprise us: “”Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”


The image above is of James Tissot’s painting, The Man Who Hoards. This post is based on my homily for Sunday, August 4, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking hereOther homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.



One comment

  1. I read this with appreciation and then the whole sermon which I found helpful and challenging. Here is a paragraph from the Rev. Wilfred Alero of Smithers, B.C., about the story of the rich fool: “. . . He was a fool because he failed to realize his dependence on others. He forgot that human beings are social beings that need each other. His vocabulary is mostly “I” and “My”. He repeats this severally until he forgets “We” and “Our”. He is a victim of cancerous disease of “egotism”. Maybe he should be reminded that acquisition of wealth is a team play game. He talks as if He could plough the field alone and build the barns alone. I am sure if he listened to the voice of God, the answer to his question, “where can I store my extra food?” would be simple, store them free of charge to the shriveled stomachs to the millions of God’s children who go to bed hungry at night, dress those who walk naked and shelter those who sleep in the cold and scorch in a daily sun without shelter over their heads. In this way we will have ministered to the nation because there is no way we can exist without the other. We trade with our brothers from all over the world, example, we depend on cocoa and minerals from Africa, coffee from Brazil, vehicles from Japan, German and France, tea from China etc and they also consume many things from us. The rich man tragically failed to realize this. He thought he could love and grow in his little self centered world.”

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