“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 here. Other 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.