Summary: What do you do with wealth? Where does greed fit the issue?
August 4, 2013
The Profit in Greed
A young man asked an old rich guy how he made his money. The old guy fingered his worsted-wool vest and said, “Well, son, it was 1932--the depth of the Great Depression, and I was down to my last nickel. I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold the apple for ten cents. The next morning, I invested those ten cents in two apples. I spent the entire day polishing them and sold them at 5-o’clock for 20-cents. I continued this system for a month, by the end of which I’d accumulated a fortune of $1.37.”
“And that’s how you built and empire?” the boy asked.
“Heavens, no!” the man replied, “My wife’s father died and left us two million dollars.”
Our focus Scripture, Luke 12:13 through 21 has the Master dealing with a question about how to justly divide a family fortune with a man’s brother. And, just as the story of Jesus in Mary and Martha’s home, Messiah focuses on what really is important. We have covered a series of incidents where there are choices to be made, giving us comparisons for options as a parent would teach a child how to make decisions correctly and for their own good.
In this story, a voice from a gathered crowd listening to the Master’s teaching requested, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Obviously, this person heard something in Immanuel’s teaching that reminded him of fairness he desired in his brother that would mean a fortune for him, and he thought the lesson applied to his brother. It didn’t matter that the Teacher had focused on truth, found in verses 1 through 3, or fear in verses 4 through 6, or blaspheming the Holy Spirit in verses 8 through 12; this guy wanted the money he believed should be coming to him. Scripture goes no further into the reasons this man didn’t have his share of an inheritance, but I suspect the Teacher knew, and that knowledge likely led to the response.
The list of things Jesus taught about were intangibles, but this guy wanted money that would make him wealthy by earthly standards. Not missing this opportunity, the Mater responded with, “Guy, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” What an excellent question. There were obviously relationship problems between siblings of a family that had inherited a serious amount of money. What is unsaid but obvious is that greed had overtaken the family to the point that when truth was spoken in the presence of this man, all he heard was a way to force generosity, or a sense of fairness, onto his brother. How do you do that when greed has its teeth buried in your spirit?
How had this man missed the lesson he had just heard? Money was all that was on his mind. After the teaching about eternal issues, such as truth, fear, and the Holy Spirit, this guy’s greed blocked all sense of reason. Perhaps he thought it would be a miracle if the absent brother actually did share the family fortune. The Master knew about his thoughts so He said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
“All kinds of greed,” what was He talking about? Money and power are related, so whatever form power takes, regardless of its type, run-away greed can result if not tempered by the code of conduct that began with God’s list of rules handed to Moses for us to follow. Remember this one from Deuteronomy 5:21, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife?” It continues, “You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Not only are we ignoring the commandment that we shall not covet, but we have a tradition and name for disobeying it that makes such behavior seem harmless—“keeping up with the Jones’.” Such competitive attitudes surface in every ethnicity, profession and culture in our nation. Even in our rural areas known as the “Bible belt,” we find farmers shopping for tractors when a neighbor gets one that’s bigger than theirs.
Can you name someone in your world that has to have one more of something than his neighbor? What about the church world? Is there no pride in a pastor with a larger church than the one on the other side of town? You know there is. Would radio or TV preachers brag about one more station than their broadcast neighbors? We both know the answer, and it’s “yes”. This huge problem has so gripped our nation that it could very easily bring us down. We seem to be obsessed with having more than we can afford.