Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”Luke 12:13-15
Why did this man suddenly blurt out his case before Jesus and the before the crowd? Most see this as a total change of topic, introduced by an interjector. Which of course is what it was. There was no direct connection between this man’s issue and what Jesus was talking about. One wonders if the man was paying attention at all to what Jesus had said. One minute we are deep into theological issues and suddenly this man blurts out his “request”. It is clear to us that the warnings Jesus was giving to His disciples were heard by the crowd, and of course the Pharisees and experts in the Law. Jesus must have paused to take a breath and suddenly this man comes with this directive. It is not a question. It is not an interjection on a point of order or clarification. It is statement of instruction to issue a decree. How curious. Especially for something so personal and which ought to be kept within the family.
I wonder whether the man wanted a grand council to discuss his case. He starts by calling Jesus, “Teacher”. I wonder if that is what prompted him to come forth with his outburst was Jesus discussing the court in the synagogue and subsequently other courts available. It is like the man sees a chance to get free legal advice. But it is not even that. There is no request for advice. It is rather an instruction to Jesus to make a ruling on his behalf. He hasn’t asked for Jesus to hear their case. He hasn’t asked Him to arbitrate for the two brothers. Rather, he comes straight out and instructs Jesus to rule in his favour and force his brother to pay him what he considers to be what he is owed. It was normal for Rabbis to be asked to bring a decision on a particular matter. To interpret the Law and then to rule on what the outcome should be. But in essence, it was arbitration on the basis of the Law. To find the best outcome for both parties. That is not this man’s goal. He wants the best outcome for himself.
According to Deut 21:17 the elder son should have a two-thirds share of the estate. It is quite likely this which was the problem. The younger son (if that is what he was) seems to be asking for an equal share, that the estate be divided. Or that the shares be separated and he be allowed to receive his share (ie. 1/3). It was often the case in the event of the death of the father, that the family property was best kept intact rather than dividing it off into the shares according to what the estate determined. For that reason it could well be that the older son was insisting that the estate remain intact to make it more economically viable. It is likely the younger son, in this case, was a mate to the other younger son we know well. The prodigal son. Perhaps this one wanted to join the prodigal in the pig pen. (Only joking). In this case however, this man clearly feels an injustice has been done to him and so he wants Jesus to hand down a decision against his brother. This is of course after Jesus has only heard his side of the story. It all seems very unrealistic. This man appears to be interested in the money alone and nothing else. He is willing to bring this case before this traveling teacher (Rabbi) in the front of a large crowd. He appears desperate.
Jesus rightly declines the role the man seeks to force on Him. Interestingly, He addresses him purely as “Man, who made Me judge over you?” Jesus is saying that He had no legal standing to make this judgement. In New Zealand we would probably say, “Mate, I have no authority in this matter.” The Jews had specific judges set aside as property judges. Interestingly the “you” is plural here.Jesus is either addressing the man on behalf of both brothers or is He addressing the crowd. After all, He is in front of a large crowd. Note how the next verse starts, “He said to them, “Beware . . . “. Is the brother there with him or is Jesus challenging the crowd on this matter?
Jesus effectively says, “beware of all kinds of covetousness”. Every kind, all forms, all manners in which it might come.
Then Jesus uses the next statement to introduce the parable which follows.
- (BBE) Take care to keep yourselves free from the desire for property; for a man’s life is not made up of the number of things which he has.
- (CEV) “Don’t be greedy! Owning a lot of things won’t make your life safe.”
- (ESV) “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
- (GNB) “Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be.”
- (GW) “Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having a lot of material possessions.”
- (ISV) “Be careful to guard yourselves against every kind of greed, for a person’s life doesn’t consist of the amount of possessions he has.”
- (KJV) Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
- (LITV) Beware, and keep back from covetousness; for one’s life is not in the abundance of the things which are his.
- (MKJV) Watch and keep yourselves from covetousness. For a man’s life is not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.
- (MSG) “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”
- (NASB) Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for notevenwhen one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
- (NLT) Then He said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”
Weigh up the inferences here before we begin the parable which Jesus used to illustrate the point.
He, who loses money, loses much; He who loses a friend, loses much more, He who loses family, loses all.Anon
Measure your wealth not by the things you have, but by the things you have for which you would not take money.Anon
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.Dave Ramsey