13Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” 15And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
Our text today reveals that Jesus was neither a revolutionary leading an uprising nor a demagogue courting popular opinion. “One from the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” This man presented Jesus with an ideal opportunity to rile up the crowd. After all, money always gets people excited. Jesus could have used this request as a springboard to denounce the excessive nature of Roman taxation or the injustice of the inheritance laws. “Let us rise up; let us protest; I’m your man! Follow me!” But Jesus was neither a revolutionary nor a demagogue. The man in the crowd had misjudged Jesus.
Instead Jesus speaks bluntly to this fellow, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Jesus reminds the man that there was a lawful way for him to handle his complaint – and that lawful way was to appeal to the magistrates, to appeal to the courts who would decide in such cases what was good and just. But courts take time and courts have rules – and this man wanted to supercede that process. He wanted to rile up the crowd. He was a revolutionary. But Jesus was not.
Neither was He a demagogue – for notice what Jesus does next. He addresses Himself to the multitude: “Take heed,” He declares, “and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” Jesus exposes the sin that was at the root of this man’s request and that is often at the root of our drive to revolutionary action: covetousness, envy, greed, the desire to possess that which lawfully belongs to others. Our politicians regularly use such envy as a tool to propel themselves into power. “Tax the rich; take from those who have more! We’ll make your brother divide that inheritance with you! He shouldn’t have so much! That’s not fair!” But Jesus exposes the origin of all this demagoguery; He exposes the sin at its root: covetousness. Jesus was no demagogue.
So listen to the words of Jesus, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” He delivers this warning to the crowd precisly because covetousness is not something that afflicts only politicians. The reason that we fall prey to the pleas of revolutionaries and demagogues is that we ourselves are covetous; we desire more than God has given us and would take that which God has given to others. But Jesus rebukes our covetousness and reminds us that our life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Instead, a meaningful life consists of loving God and loving one’s neighbor, of being content with what one has received and of laying up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy. And this is true for rich and poor alike.
And so reminded that we are to be neither revolutionaries nor demagogues, that we are to be content with what God has given us and not let covetousness drive us to take that which rightfully belongs to others, let us kneel as we are able and confess that we are often covetous and fall prey to revolutionaries and demagogues. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in bulletin.