4 Aug 2013
“Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.’” (Luke 12:13) In the name …
The other evening I was outside doing some yard work. I was wearing shorts, a Rolling Rock tee-shirt, and I had a sweat-stained Red Sox baseball cap on my head. My knees were covered with dirt and I was all sweaty. Some guy who I couldn’t remember seeing before was walking down Thayer Street and I said a quick “Hello” to him. Sometimes I forget people I’ve met in passing. Do I know them? Should I remember them? They sometimes look familiar, but I’m not sure if we’ve just passed in town or actually met somewhere. So the guy I said hello to stopped. I got up from weeding and we started chatting for a bit.
At this point, I’m thinking I must have met him before somewhere because not too many complete strangers will stop their walk and start-up a conversation. Since the church building was right there, it came up in our discussion. Now I’m thinking he knows who I am even if I can’t place who he is. So tongue-in-cheek I start playing up the pastor, imagining that he knows I’m the pastor: Wonderful guy; smart; great sermons; never too long, you want to always hear more. Then just as suddenly as he stopped to talk, he was on his way again. After he left, I started to think maybe I’ve never met this guy before, maybe he has no idea who I am. I started thinking about what I was going to say to him if he came to church last Sunday looking for this extraordinary priest and instead found me up here, the guy who was working in the yard talking about the extraordinary priest. He didn’t show – yet – so for at least a while I’m off the hook.
See that’s what happens when you ask somebody a question and you don’t know anything about them. You don’t know what you’re getting into. I know I’ve given-up on unfiltered searches for religious information on the internet because there’s so much garbage out there that it takes forever to find something of value. Religion can bring out the kookiest side of people and the internet gives them a platform to share their rantings with all the world. I’ve learned to trust certain sources on the internet and to hold suspect most everything else. So when one of the followers of Jesus yells out to Him from the surrounding crowd asking Jesus to arbitrate an inheritance matter, this speaks highly of the respect Jesus has earned among His contemporaries, that He’s not just joking around or is just a kook.
The question about the inheritance is a delicate one. It’s prone to starting all kinds of family disputes. Hard feelings can last for generations. So we have a couple of brothers in today’s Gospel and from the way the question is asked it seems like one brother inherited everything and the other got nothing. This is the way the ancient world worked. The first born son got the farm, everyone else got their walking papers. It’s kind of like that George kid born over in England. He’ll probably be a king someday. The next kid, not as big a deal. Jesus is being asked to overturn a long-established tradition. The one asking the question probably realizes that he has no chance with the legal experts, but maybe this radical preacher will see things differently. will see things his way.
But Jesus doesn’t answer his question, while at the same time He does answer the question and even more. “It’s not why I’m here,” basically says Jesus. “‘Who appointed me as your judge or arbitrator?’” But Jesus isn’t ducking a tough question; He’s trying to turn a tough question for Him into an important realization for the brothers - plural, a hard truth that they both have to figure out for themselves, even if with a little, subtle, nudge from Jesus. So Jesus seamlessly moves away from apparently discussing the question of the inheritance and begins to speak against greed, but I don’t think He’s forgotten the brothers at all. He’s planted the thought in both of their minds to be careful that greed is not their motivation. Jesus isn’t going to tell them what to do, but to both brothers Jesus quietly gets them thinking about the meaning of true riches. Are possessions the most important question or should the brothers be thinking about relationships? Are they going to give up on each other because of stuff? We never know what happens. Jesus tried to move the brothers and everyone else who was listening past the particulars that would come and go and not add up to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things, and He tries to get them to think about the bigger question of true wealth, of just what it is that makes a person rich in this life. Jesus wants His followers to think for themselves.
This is part of the miracle of turning to Jesus even today. He’s going to prod us to think beyond what we expect. He’s going to push us to look at any problem from all sorts of directions, but definitely not only from our own. Contemporary Christianity in too many places and too often is forced to be black and white, right and wrong, but we live in a complex world where that doesn’t work too often. Simple answers are a hazard to the faith. They will turn people away from the church. A quick resort to judgment and condemnation makes a mockery of the Jesus of today’s Gospel. But it’s easy to walk away from the problem instead of fixing it. That’s why I was so happy to hear the Pope tell young people to make a mess in their churches. Shake it up, clean it out. Long before this Pope, our founding bishop would talk about an evolution of faith, that it must constantly be confronted by the necessity of change. The Buddhists say, “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the men of old. Rather, seek what they sought.” This keeps our faith-lives fresh and new, challenging and changing. Let us pray that we may again appreciate the Jesus who doesn’t just tell us, but who prods us to better understand what it means to believe in Him, to accept Him as our model and advocate. In a complex world, we need to re-discover this Jesus. And for this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo