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.
I don’t know what a sterling silver zahzzysahzzy is, but now I want one.
When I was a teenager, my grandmother remarried. She had owned her house. When she died. her husband got the house and left it to his kids. My dad’s family was left out in the cold. I have heard of that happening to others, too.
After my mother died, my sister and I went to an attorney
to settle up the estate. As he talked to us, he stopped
after every point to ask, “Now, you both are okay with this?”
And we always answered, “Yeah, sure.” Finally, I asked him, “Do
you not get this often?” He said, “No, never. All families are
fighting by now.” Neither of us felt it was worth arguing about
“stuff;” we just missed our parents.
“Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, than great treasure with trouble.” (Pr. 15:16).
After my grandmother died, my aunts had greed issues. My mother, their sister-in-law, asked me to identify the things of hers I wanted some day so that she could mark them with my name. I was appalled! I reminded her that she and my dad had raised their four kids to really love each other and that we would never fight over her and dad’s things. I was right. When our parents went to heaven they left four children who only desire to give to each other. Maybe that’s because there was no sterling silverware to be had…lol.
Offtopic here, but I like the comments as a single list as they are now. When replies are nested it’s hard to quickly see all the new comments.
Not-fighting over the stuff is a powerful testimony to a wise upbringing. I am abundantly thankful that as my parents were failing and passed last year, the frustrations that my-brother-whose-job-it-was-to-close-up-and-sell-the-house when my parents went into long-term care and my-other-brother-who-was-executor experienced were all due to the hard-wired difficulties of those jobs, not to any grief the rest of us put them to.
Such a great post. Unless the Lord radically changes our circumstances, my husband and I will not have much to leave our children. Provided we die in old age, our plan, thought of by my bright light of a husband, is to give everything to them before that happens. Joints becoming too weak to use those woodworking tools? Give them to our handyman. Have too many knick knacks and tchotchkes for your old bones to be cleaning and dusting? Divide ’em up for Christmas. Divest before you die. That way, the kids get what they want and the government doesn’t.
Unrelated-just an FYI that might be my problem but my pulse link to your blog isn’t updating and your blog doesn’t show in the app? Maybe it’s all on my end…just wanted to give you a heads up in case it’s not.
But what if it’s a full quarter of prime North Dakota farm land that got shorted by $70,000 because of Uncle Fred’s lying, cheating dark heart?? Dang you and your logic!!
Great post. True story by the way.
“It isn’t so much the sterling silver zahzzysahzzy, it’s the principle of the thing.”
Yes, it is. You simply chose a difference principle: Christ’s. Thanks for the contemplation.
I believe the Cat in the Hat (animated movie version) would have called it “the old family grudunza.”
A very nice piece, so far as it goes. Now if you would just apply the same logic–letting go of what we believe is rightfully ours–to taxation, and if you would not refer to “social justice” as nothing more than “a greasy little feeling in our hearts,” then all would be well.