St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


Inheritance, Greed, And Human Foolishness

by

The Rev. Dr. Nathanael Saint-Pierre


(Luke 12:13-21)


July 31, 2022


I have studied, but I need your strength I have prepared, but I need your power,

I’m willing and I want to, but only you can make me able

Silently now I wait for thee, ready my God thy will to see 

Open mine eyes and illumine me. Spirit divine


Beloveds, the prize of the Mega Millions Lottery this week was above 1 billion dollars. Many of us are throwing a few dollars hoping to win the jackpot. We all want to live luxurious lives where all our needs are met. We all want to leave something behind for our children and our children’s children. Have you ever seen a family destroyed by a fight over inheritance between siblings after the death of a parent? Do you remember the damages greed caused between Esau and Jacob? And after that, the consequence of envy and jealousy among the twelve sons of Jacob?


In this pericope (section or portion of text) of Luke, someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But Jesus refused to take the role of the divider; he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”. He began to talk about greed, saying to the crowd: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Jesus went on to support his teaching with the parable of the rich fool.


What was wrong with the man’s request? Why does Jesus talk about greed? Is it wrong to ask for our inheritance? How does the parable apply to the man’s request? How does the parable apply to our modern culture?


It is a common problem in all societies and cultures to fight over inheritance. People are indifferent to the stress those fights cause and how they divide families. People don’t get that the teacher said: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)


Greed in the Old Testament and during Jesus’ era: Already, during Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage, people were inclined to pile up possessions and cumulate power. From Abraham to Isaiah, success was defined as material possessions and wealth. Abraham was successful because of his ability to negotiate. He even bargained with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra. Jacob was a successful conman due to his ability to go after his adversaries, including his brother Esau, lying, fooling, and stealing when necessary. He finished wealthy but was despised by his twin brother because of stealing his birthright and blessing.


In Luke, we received two parables from Jesus addressing greed: the parable of the rich fool and the parable of the prodigal son. Those stories clearly placed Jesus against the pursuit of earthly goods. In the parable of the rich fool that we read today, we are introduced to a wealthy farmer who believed that his security (his future) rested on the size of his barn and wealth. This rich man is a shrewd businessman, but his shrewdness is very evil. By building a colossal storage barn, the rich fool decides to hoard his harvest and not contribute to the market with his surplus (which would have caused prices to go down). That’s how one manipulates supply vs. demand. By artificially reducing the supply, product pricing is falsely and artificially inflated. That’s what some call the market economy. The farmer did not realize that he did not control the future. Only now is a gift; that is why it’s a present. The next second is borrowed. It’s a loan one might never cash out.


Greed in the world today: The market economy system is still well alive today. We seek power and wealth to dominate others. We seize any or all opportunities to make a fortune because fortune has become a determining factor in our classification. The rise of gas prices and inflation result from greed and unfaithful stewardship. Pharmaceutical companies and other businesses are jacking up costs more than necessary to gain unethical profit. These companies and political leaders act like the rich fool concerned with his earthly life, not his poor neighbors or afterlife. Our modern culture tends to promote the piling up of material goods and defining success as if one needs to own the world and have a more than one-can-count-wealth to be respectable. The cult (respect + admiration, not to say adoration) we pay to Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos creates a desire in all to become the wealthiest people on earth, and we do anything to leave behind an inheritance for the children we have not spent enough time to raise. 


The market economy system is at work even in the church, a not-for-profit organization. During the past week, a bishop of a storefront church in Brooklyn was robbed of his 1 million dollars’ worth of jewelry at gunpoint. I am not excusing the robbers for their actions, but is it fair to ask oneself how this money could have changed the community? How many of those robbers would have been in school or working instead of using a gun to get the bling-bling lifestyle displayed in their face if invested in education? People seem more focused on their income, wealth, and bank account size than on surrendering their present (now) into God’s hands.


Teachings of Jesus to his contemporary: Jesus taught his contemporaries that greed is the moral antithesis of generosity. God does not bless us for saving; God blesses us for sharing. Jesus invited his contemporaries not to store up treasures on earth because the essential things are not for sale and cannot be bought. Jesus refused to get involved because he knew the motivation of this little brother, who wanted his older brother to give him the one-third that was due to him. That’s why he became the reconciler instead of the divider. Jesus refused to be the judge who took one side against the other. Jesus preferred to be the bridge, a path that can invite one brother to meet with the other and inaugurate a relationship of a new nature.


Teaching of Jesus for our world (us): Despite the motivation of the world to prioritize quantity over quality, Jesus still invites us to look at and evaluate how life is frail. One day we are alive, making plans for years to come. The next day, death strikes, and our wealth remains for the ungrateful. If the dollar bill has the motto “In God, we trust,” it does not mean God is the dollar bill. God is much more than whatever fortune. Our heart needs to be trusting in God. It might be sane to compete but not to the detriment of our relationship.


“Money can buy a house, but not a home; a bed, but not rest; food, but not an appetite; medicine, but not health; information, but not wisdom; thrills, but not joy; associates, but not friends; servants, but not loyalty; flattery, but not respect.1


A father sacrificed himself all his life to educate his four boys. Unfortunately, he died before he could enjoy their success. The oldest became a doctor, the second one an engineer, the third one a lawyer but the fourth one a dealer/broker/racketeer. At the funeral, they all came with lovely eulogies and gifts for their father. The doctor gifted his father with a gold watch and told him (who could not hear him anymore) how important he contributed to making him the person he has become. The engineer deposited ten thousand dollars cash in the casket and thanked his father for paying for his education. “I built the nicest tomb for you in the best cemetery. RIP, dad.” The lawyer read a long speech in which he told all his many accomplishments in law school and the many high-profile cases he prosecuted or defended. All of that is thanks to his father’s financial support. He said to the congregants sitting at the ceremony: “If a doctor can’t do better than giving a gold watch, if an engineer can only give you ten thousand dollars, a nice tomb in a cemetery, a high-profile, successful lawyer should do better. I will put fifty thousand in your casket, dad, so you can enjoy yourself where you will be.” The dealer/broker/racketeer did not have much to say. He was really in pain from the death of his father. He told how he was going to miss him not because of his money but because of the present and faithful father he was. “How forgiving my father was,” he said, “every time I was arrested trying to sell some ganja, he was there. He even came to visit me in jail. He was never ashamed or afraid of me. He bailed me out many times and loved me unconditionally.” The dealer/broker/racketeer quickly took the gold watch from his father’s wrist, took the ten thousand and the fifty thousand left by his brothers, deposited a check for one hundred thousand dollars in the pocket of his father’s suit, and said “Now when you get up there, Dad, cash this check. I am not as rich as my brothers, so I keep the change from what they gave you. Always remember I love you.”


“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 5:10).” “Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. (Proverb 11:28).” “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Hebrew 13:5” “Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15).”

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Footnote:

1 Pat Williams. What are you living for?: Investing Your Life in What Matters Most