Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 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.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.” ‘
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12: 13-21)
Many of us tend to read this passage as advocating some sort of social gospel, that the rich ought to show concern for the poor in following Jesus. When we read this passage, we bring to it the assumption that first-century Israel was like present-day America socioeconomically, with a few rich people and a sizeable middle class who had a decent standard of living by the standards of the day.
But what if the situation was different? There were a few rich landowners who had gobs and gobs of land, and then there were the rest. These people would have a small plot of land to farm or build a house on, so small that it probably could not be divided.
If this is the case, then the person in the crowd’s request, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” takes on a much more poignant aspect. This would probably have been someone for whom the inheritance would have been a small-ish plot of land. His brother, being the elder brother, would have gotten the double portion, meaning that his brother would have gotten everything while he would have come away destitute. His brother was under no obligation to share the inheritance, but could have done so out of benevolence. It seems as if he would not have done so without any prodding from Jesus.
And if this is the case, then Jesus’ subsequent warning and parable of the rich fool takes on a MUCH more poignant aspect. Because then it becomes clear that this is not just for the rich or the super-rich among us; instead it is a warning for ALL of us.