Luke 12:13-15 – Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” NIV
As this passage begins (Luke 12:1), it indicates that Jesus is addressing a crowd of “many thousands.” He speaks of such topics as hypocrisy, holding God in reverence, acknowledging Him as Messiah, and the promise of the Holy Spirit. He is interrupted by a man who wants Him to settle a family dispute.
Jesus’ response in the form of a question: “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”; caused me to wonder a little because the Bible seems to indicate that in the end He is the ultimate judge. So I turned to Warren Wiersbe’s Bible Exposition Commentary for a little insight.
“At this point, a man in the crowd interrupted Jesus and asked Him to solve a family problem. Rabbis were expected to help settle legal matters, but Jesus refused to get involved. Why? Because He knew that no answer He gave would solve the real problem, which was covetousness in the hearts of the two brothers. (The “you” in Luke 12:14 is plural.) As long as both men were greedy, no settlement would be satisfactory. Their greatest need was to have their hearts changed. Like too many people today, they wanted Jesus to serve them but not to save them.” (from The Bible Exposition Commentary)
Jesus knew that the brothers’ attitudes and greedy desires were at the heart of the matter. Instead of addressing these issues in their life, they wanted to drag Him into their dispute. Chances are that even if Jesus did what the brother requested, one or both of the brothers would not be satisfied. Again instead of simply addressing the surface issue requested, Jesus used a question to address their heart issues.
If the relationship between the brothers had been amicable, and they were familiar with the property laws in the Old Testament, this settlement should have been no problem. However, Jesus realized that there were deeper relational and spiritual issues that needed to be handled by these two brothers. He indicated that they needed to deal with the greed that took precedence over relationships. He renounced the idea that “he who dies with most toys wins.” Life is about more than things and the accumulation of things.
Often in our relationship with God, we address our physical needs more often than our spiritual, emotional, and relational needs. We may sing, “Change my heart, O God” with the congregation; but inside we’re praying more about our wants and desires … many times based more upon what others have than what we need to survive. To build upon what Wiersbe says … we want Jesus to serve our desires and not transform us to be like Him.
Some questions to consider: In what areas of my life am I more concerned about things than relationships … either with God or with others? What portion of my prayer life has to do with my desires for things, and what portion has to do with God changing me to be more like Jesus? What is one desire or attitude that I need God’s help to change?