What do we do when we have been treated unjustly? Is justice always worth pursuing? Where should our real focus be?
I want us to learn to be satisfied with what God provides and focus on the permanent things of heaven rather than the fleeting things of earth.
We will discuss unfair inheritances, injustice in general, what real treasure is, greed and learning to be satisfied.
An unfair inheritance
Whether it is royalty dividing a kingdom or a poor peasant deciding how the children are to inherit a few small family treasures, an inheritance is not always fair. I am thankful that my father negotiated equitably with his children and that we are still on good speaking terms. It’s not always that way. Whether the cause of the unfair inheritance in Luke 12:13-21 was favoritism or a child’s sins, or some other cause entirely, the fact is that one sibling felt grossly mistreated. Jesus did not want to get caught in the middle. His job was not to be a judge in a family lawsuit. One brother obviously got a larger slice of the pie. We don’t need to fret if others are greedy and we miss out, because life does not consist in an abundance of things.
In Luke 12:13-21 is the story of two brothers, one received a large inheritance and the other none or very little. The one brother cried out to Jesus for justice, but Jesus refused to intervene. Why? In our world today are billionaires who take far more than a fair share of the economy, by grossly overcharging, underpaying wages, cutting health benefits, unfair tax breaks, lobbying to deny workers a fair deal and in some cases outright criminal actions. Many people are crying out for justice today. Why does Jesus not intervene? If we have it within our power, it is our job to seek justice for others (Isaiah 1:17). It is not God’s timetable to right every wrong in this life. For some things, we must simply have the faith that God will eventually make all things right.
Satisfied with what God gives
Have we ever prayed for God to set things right but it seems like that God says no or to wait? In Luke 12:13-21 is such a situation. One brother has a larger portion of the inheritance. He may have manipulated his way into the bigger share. He may have simply not defended his younger brother against unjust parents playing favorites. Jesus’ advice is to take heed or watch out and avoid covetousness. The Greek word for covetousness is also often translated as greed, and means “lusting for a greater number of temporal things that go beyond what God determines is eternally best”. If someone has swindled us out of worldly goods let us realize that an abundance of possessions does not define a great life. Being satisfied with what God decides to give us is a great life.
Our son asked our advice on his becoming a missionary. I told him the cold, hard facts. A missionary life is wonderful and adventurous and giving and heroic, but there is no retirement plan, no equity built up in a house, and no church cares that missionaries return home to retire with nothing. I know, I was a missionary of sorts myself, having been a pastor on three continents. Our retirement will probably be one of poverty, but that’s not a bad thing. The parable of the unjust inheritance (Luke 12:13-21) teaches a similar lesson. One brother was cheated out of a fair inheritance and Jesus simply taught that life does not consist of an abundance of things. The Bible teaches that a life of poverty is a blessed one. Relying upon God for our provision is an adventure.
Good coveting, bad coveting
Coveting can be right and proper. The Bible says to covet the best spiritual gifts and to covet to prophesy. The English word covet simply means to desire. Desire is wrong when we lust after what is not ours. The last of the Ten Commandments deals with lust. Coveting what does not belong to us causes us to lie, murder, steal, commit adultery and so on. Jesus addressed the folly of covetousness in the story of the unjust inheritance and the parable of the greedy farmer (Luke 12:13-21). One is the case of the brother unjustly treated in a family inheritance. We don’t need to lust after what others have rightly or wrongly gotten. It is also the case with the guy who built a barnyard retirement plan. We ought not to trust in selfish preparations but in God.
A wicked man praises the greedy (Psalm 10:1-4). The greedy ambush their own lives (Proverbs 1:18-19) and destroy their families (Proverbs 15:27). They want more, but the righteous love to give (Proverbs 15:27). Greedy get rich quick schemes cause poverty (Proverbs 28:22). Greedy leaders destroy a nation (Proverbs 29:4). Greedy people feast on the suffering poor (Proverbs 30:14). Leaders who look to their own gain are like greedy dogs (Isaiah 56:10-11), out for dishonest gain, shedding innocent blood, oppressing and extorting (Jeremiah 22:15-17). Religious leaders are not immune to greed and wickedness (Luke 11:37-41). If we feel cheated in business or inheritance by others we can’t let their greed ruin our lives as it has theirs (Luke 12:13-21). Greed is idolatry and cannot enter God’s kingdom (Ephesians 5:5).
Greed: How much is too much?
Jesus preached against greed (Luke 12:13-21). He even defined it within that context as a desire for an abundance of things, way beyond basic necessities and storing up for selfish purposes without being rich towards God. Elsewhere, Jesus taught that if we have two coats give one to the poor and he encouraged one rich young man to sell everything and give it to the poor. Yet others of his followers were quite wealthy. Even monks who give up everything can become quite greedy over one book. So, it’s not the amount that we own, but our attitude towards it. Wealth deceives us. The more we have the more we think we need and the more covetous we tend to become. At what level would you divest yourself of wealth and find ways to give most of it away?
Greed and capitalism
Was Jesus’ condemnation of greed (Luke 12:13-21) a denunciation of capitalism? Some people think so. But in its broadest definition capitalism includes all capital, even the shirt on our backs. Perhaps what Jesus was really against was evil forms of capitalism, selfish greed. Venice is a case study in the results of unrighteous capitalism. Once an affluent, open economy, the rich destroyed it through greed. Our world economies are under the same threat today, facing potential self-destruction as more and more of us work as poorly paid serfs to the greedy. Economists say that there is little difference today between the greedy American CEO and the Chinese Communist party plutocrat. Greed is bad for capitalism because the resulting fights between businesses, inside corporations and even among family members only destroy and do not create a shared wealth for all.
When justice is not worth pursuing
In the parable of the unjust inheritance (Luke 12:13-21) one brother seems to have been greedy for the larger share of the pie and the other seems to have been greedy for justice in the inheritance. Greedy people only trouble themselves and their own households (Proverbs 15:27). Favoritism and greed over inheritance drives family members apart. Before taking someone to court we ought to ask if it is worth it. Life is filled with financial injustices from bank fees to overcharging for services and unfair wages. If we spend a lifetime bitter over injustices and trying to right every wrong done to us, we won’t have time for living. It seems that Jesus was telling the young man to just let it go and get on with living a good life. Sometimes justice is just not worth pursuing.
Selfish species die
Recent scientific research has shown that selfish species die. For a species to thrive individuals must learn to communicate and cooperate. Like the brother who took the largest portion of the family inheritance (Luke 12:13-21) greed isolates us from our tribes. Community and family members withdraw their support believing that the selfish person will continue to take more than their fair share. Rather than living a shared life, with mutual support and protection, the greedy brother is now isolated and unprotected. Covetousness is therefore self-destructive behavior. In our greed we estrange those who would have been there in our hour of need. We isolate ourselves from our support mechanism. We destroy the world, our nation, our families and ourselves when we become greedy. Even in nature, insects and sheep know instinctively that to survive they must share and cooperate.
God will not always set things right in this life, because he is looking for a more eternal treasure in our lives, spiritual rather than material, eternal rather than temporary. Let’s set our hearts on the things of God, not the things of earth.