A number of people in my generation are coming to an age when issues of inheritance are becoming more and more . . . relevant. Our parents are being gathered to their fathers, and we are left to sort out the stuff. The fact that we do not do well in this is not a new phenomenon. We should recall that the grudge that the older brother had toward the prodigal was all tangled up with inheritance issues.
And then there is this.
“And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:13-15).
The last of the Ten Commandments tells us not to covet stuff we have no claim to whatever — and it is still a most necessary reminder. No commandment trips us up like this one does. In our day, we have a vast governmental apparatus dedicated to helping us get our paws on our neighbor’s stuff, and we have a vaster kultursmog of self-justifying assumptions to help us call that greasy little feeling in our hearts a zeal for social justice. But the Tenth Commandment is talking about our neighbor, someone unrelated to us.
Here, in this passage, Jesus warns us explicitly about covetousness in the context of a dispute about an inheritance. Here we are told not to covet something we believe we have a legitimate claim to — we are told not to covet our own.
Things can get pretty tangled pretty quick. There wasn’t a will, grandma promised the same thing to three different people over a span of two decades, objects with sentimental value do not have the same value family-wide, and so on. Jesus didn’t even start to get into it. His retort was fairly blunt — who made me the executor? Think about that — there is going to be a reading of the (garbled) will, the font of all the trouble, and you do the most pious thing you can think of and invite Jesus to it. And get this — He refuses. Why would He climb into that particular snake pit?
But He does give us a principle to hold on to. It doesn’t matter that it is yours by rights. Beware of covetousness. It doesn’t matter that she promised it to you when you were ten and your pigtails were really cute. Beware of coveting what you believe with all your heart is your own. Jesus will go with us into that room, but only in the garb of freedom from covetousness. If we put on Jesus, that is what it has to look like.
Many years ago, Nancy and I had an oblique connection to an unpleasant inheritance spat. We determined at that time that we never wanted to receive anything that was unblessed. If it was unblessed, we didn’t want it. If it was really unblessed, we really didn’t want it. Moreover, as part of this, we resolved never to be “those people,” the people who say “it isn’t so much the sterling silver zahzzysahzzy, it’s the principle of the thing.” It is too the zahzzysahzzy, ensconced in its comfy little covet-cubby down in your heart.
It is an inheritance dispute, and so it really might be yours. All the more reason for letting it go.