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.” (Luke 12:13-15)
Most pastors, rabbis or other kind of leaders I know of would never, ever, give such an answer. They would politely obey the person and strongly encourage the person’s brother to share their inheritance equally. We all want to be fair, right? But Jesus firstly questions why the person views Him as a judge or an arbiter, secondly He warns the whole crowd for greed and for wanting an abundance of possessions.
See, if it’s fair to split an inheritance equally, how much more fair isn’t it to split all the world’s wealth equally? Jesus practiced community of goods with His disciples (John 13:29), and the church continued to do so when He had levitated into Heaven (Acts 2:44-45). But the inheritance of the world is private, those with rich parents inherits more than those with poor parents. Since the world doesn’t have the Jubilee economic system that Old Testament Israel was supposed to have, there is no mecanism to stop this other than tax, which in most cases doesn’t create much equality (in Sweden we used to have an inheritance tax, but the conservative “Christian democratic” government abolished it).
A couple of months ago I wrote about how economic inequality often is rationalized through claiming that hard work lies behind personal wealth, but I argued that this is wrong since may poor people work much harder than the rich – instead most wealth is inherited, and a lot of times it was originally collected through exploitation, slavery and war (and still is, to some extent). Basically, fairness isn’t just splitting inheritance equally between the inheritants, fairness is questioning why we want a lot of inhereted wealth.
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 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 my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain 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 whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
We should not desire to be rich, we should desire to be faithful to the Lord and do good deeds towards the poor and destitute. If we live simply, give away as much as we can and care for people and God’s creation, we will be much more blessed than if we had just been longing for the wealth of our parents.