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; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Today’s passage definitely transcends time and reaches out to anyone who has material possession. Although these words are old the caution in Jesus’s voice should be heeded nonetheless.
It’s difficult to deduce the attitude of the man addressing Jesus. We can guess that it was with a selfish or greedy tone of voice or heart that the man addressed Jesus because of Jesus’s response, a caution of being greedy. Then, it was common for such disputes like inheritance to be settled by Rabbis and so the man may not have been out of line to bring the subject to Jesus. Of course, Jesus endowed with divinity is able to see the heart of the man and to use his plea as a cautionary tale for others.
Another interesting point in today’s passage is how Jesus does not accept the role of judge or arbiter over the subject. Jesus does not accommodate this entirely human quarrel but who could possibly serve as a better judge or arbiter than Jesus? A personal commentary on Jesus’s refusal to arbitrate is, perhaps, due to an annoyance. If one were to boil the ministry of Jesus down to a specific point it may be related to love, grace, humility and putting others ahead of oneself. If that is an accepted description of Jesus’s ministry than it’d be easy to see how greed and dispute might contradict Jesus’s ministry and teaching. My personal commentary, however, is unable to dictate whether or not Jesus gets annoyed.
The crux of today’s passage, of course, is the caution.
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Being a father of two young children it’s easy to see how much a family can accumulate. It’s easy because the children often take the accumulation and spread it over the living room, kitchen and bedroom floors. It seems that half of parenting is picking up after the kids. It can be said that in our home there is definitely an abundance of possessions. The consumerist society that we live in is pretty used to that kind of a lifestyle. Imagine those who were directly listening to Jesus’s caution. They didn’t even have a Wal-Mart. Jesus speaks on the subject of money and possessions often. Perhaps Jesus’s quantity of teaching on this matter is due to “personal possession’s” antithetical stance to the ministry of Jesus. Perhaps it’s also due to the fact that we will always struggle with this subject.
Humans struggle with this subject in a number of ways. Jesus says that there are different kinds of greed. Some of the kinds of greed can be because of personal security, stature or pure envy. Either way Jesus cautions us to watch out for any of these kinds of greed. Although “watch out” may seem like and outward action this caution works best if we look inward.
We will not be free of the system of personal possession in this world. Due to a broken communion with God and with one another humanity must rely on trade, purchase, and possession. So, we must look inward to the purpose of our purchases and possessions. There are a number of characters that God blesses with such blessing. However, those characters have always been described as righteous people. Therefore, possessions do not define the character of a man – what he does with what he has – defines him.