The Foolish Builder? I beg to differ. I believe a better title for this chapter is Selfish vs. Selfless. If you boil this chapter down to the nitty-gritty, that’s what it’s all about. Let me fill you in:
The central story for this chapter is a man who asked Jesus to mediate a family quarrel (Luke 12:13-14). Reading this with modern eyes doesn’t begin to explain exactly what’s going on. It simply seems like someone wanting their inheritance. Gary Burge picks this apart a bit more to give us a bigger picture.
He was trying to use Jesus’ influence. In Bible times, a rabbi, or Jewish religious leader, would be called on to settle minor disputes. We might pick up the phone and call a lawyer, but back then, they would find the modern day equivalent of a pastor. Rabbis would be trained in the Jewish laws handed down from Moses. Jesus was widely known as a spiritual teacher, with many people equating him with rabbis, though he had not completed formal rabbinical training.
The inheritance was likely land. These days, many of us rent or lease. Those of us who own will likely sell their house and move into a new one once, if not several times in our lives. The idea of a piece of land permanently owned by anyone, let alone a family is a bit of a foreign concept. Fact: in those days land was associated with prestige and honor – not just the monetary value of the land.
The man was likely trying to get his own way. He tried to tell Jesus what to do: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” He didn’t ask Jesus to look at the facts and make a decision of his own. He simply told Jesus what to say.
Jesus doesn’t take sides. The man was likely to lose the relationship with his brother if Jesus were to divide this land. Christ realizes the central fact in the dispute: it was over the love of money. He refuses the title of arbiter and speaks the next phrase: “Be careful to guard yourselves from every kind of greed. Life is not about having a lot of material possessions.” (God’s Word Version) I always thought that this was a mere lead into the next story about the man who tore down his barns for the sake of building bigger ones to hold his crops (Gary Burge talks about that too, but I’ll let you read it for yourself). Christ was commenting on the inheritance issue, and then clarified the statement with the parable that followed.
That’s my favorite phrase to say when reading a passage of scripture. I can dig into the Greek. I can dig into the context of the Jewish faith of Bible times. I can find thousands of commentaries online to pick apart a verse, but so what? Head knowledge is useless unless we apply it to our lives in some way. So here’s “so what:”
The legacy you leave will not be what you own, but the lives you touched. PLEASE don’t misjudge me. This is not a cry for you to go dump your money in the offering tray next time a missionary comes to your church (though we should support our missionaries). When most people read this scripture, they interpret it as though we should give away all we have to support the poor and needy. That is well and good – the Bible does call us to help the widows and orphans. But do we do it merely by tossing money at the problem?
The chapter, and for that matter, the book, closes with a true story about two men: one named John Bennett. He built mission agencies and traveled the world. At the age of 47, he died of a heart attack. The other was a friend of the author’s that lives in Chicago. He flew all of his children and grandchildren to Ecuador to cast the vision of helping the people in the country. After he dies, he wants his estate to be used for positive means. Both of these men live a life for others.
Personally, I’m reminded of my friend, Pastor Ramon Morante. He came to Indonesia with his entire family – a wife and three kids – to help reach the lost here. He was a man that always had a smile on his face. While he had very little most of the time, he would find a way to help those around him. He organized countless mission opportunities to reach out the countless poor of Jakarta.
Sadly, just last week, he went to be with the Lord. It was so sudden. One day, he’s there, ministering, sharing, loving, and the next day he’s not there. He will never be there. His memorial service was packed. The small funeral home was packed to overflowing – filled with the lives he touched.
I’m not saying that we have to pack up and sell off everything and go live overseas as missionaries. FACT: we are all missionaries. Every time we go to work, to the grocery store, gas station, mall, park, gym, pool, sidewalk, doctor’s office, restaurant, fast food joint, library, coffee shop, yoga class, sporting event, etc., we are all missionaries. We don’t have to try to get everyone we meet to kneel down and say the sinner’s prayer. Rather, we should be “the salt and light” to the world – with our words of love and mercy and with our deeds of compassion and grace.
Pastor Ramon was a good man. He lived life to the fullest. He lived life without regrets. We should follow his lead. You don’t know when your life will end, but when you live a life that reaches into the hearts of those around you, it won’t matter whether you know our not. You would be living a life without regrets.
About the author:
Gabriel Morton is a husband, father, teacher, and youth pastor. His passion is changed lives. He loves it when he sees churches uniting in spreading the message of Christ’s love across the Globe. Want some mental floss? Check out his blog Christ in 3D.