Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
—Luke 12:13-31, NIV
In today’s reading from Luke, a man interrupts Jesus’ discourse, asking Him to compel his brother to divide an inheritance with him. This action was completely in line, because Jesus was a rabbi and rabbis commonly mediated such disputes. Jesus refuses to get involved, but uses the man’s request as a point of departure.
Jesus says, the one who dies with the most toys most certainly doesnot win. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Then He tells a parable about an inheritance from the viewpoint of the rich man who left it. In the parable, there is nothing to suggest that the rich man came about his wealth other than through honest means, but he’s preoccupied with his possessions. This is a first-century yuppie: the man makes a nice six-figure income, has a nice home and a few profitable real estate holdings. So he decides to invest his wealth in some mutual funds and a Swiss bank account, move to a state with a low cost of living and retire early at age 45. Why not? He’s worked hard for his wealth and now is the time to enjoy it.
But God says he’s foolish, because tonight is the night he dies! The huge fortune he’s amassed is inherited by others who did not work to earn it and who dispute about how it is to be divvied up; just like the man who interrupted Jesus a few moments before.
How silly to worry about material things! Birds live beak to claw in all seasons, and yet they don’t starve. Wild lilies are decked out in the latest style without setting so much as a stamen in a shopping mall! Worldly people have no cause for security in this world, so they worry about such things; they amass wealth and make elaborate retirement plans, but godly people have God to rely on. So why do we vex ourselves with such things?
I remember when I was three years old. My mother had only one dress, which was given to her by the pastor’s wife. Our house was provided by relatives, and we ate macaroni and cheese every night for a year. When I was twelve, we had bad times again: it was pancakes for dinner for a month, our clothes were home-made and our Christmas was sparse. When I was twenty-four, I had only $140 and a car: to escape 50% employment in my town, I drove 900 miles north to a strange city where I had no friends and I had to live on the charity of strangers for three months. When I was thirty-five, my employer went out of business. I worked as a contractor for 12 hours a day, barely making enough to pay my bills and I subsisted on a diet of beans and rice.
Each time hard times have come into my life, God has provided for me. I may have been scared, but I always had food to eat, even when I had no money to pay for it. I’ve always had a place to live and even a car to drive, and I never lost anything I wasn’t better off without.
So why should I be preoccupied to the point of distraction with such things? Why should I be worried about real estate appreciation, pension plans, health insurance, groceries, the price of gas, or any other thing? God has always provided for me in time past, and as I get older, my confidence during hard times grows stronger.
If you want to become a doctor, you don’t start by buying a stethoscope, a white coat, and a supply of tongue depressors; you concentrate on medical school and all these other things come as a matter of course. Jesus says, if you want to live a good life, you concentrate on the Kingdom of God, and the food and shelter and clothing will be added as a matter of course.
The one who dies with the most toys does not win. Toys aren’t even the point. If I live a life of collecting toys, the time will come when my playtime is over, and the toys will be given to the remaining players. They won’t benefit me at all after that. If I live a life of loving and serving my heavenly Father, He’ll supply me with all the toys I really need.