Jesus talked constantly about the kingdom, about God’s rule, setting things right. And he constantly criticised the Pharisees for their nit-picking attention to detail while neglecting “the weightier matters” of justice, mercy and love.
But then comes someone from the crowd of listeners who says: “Master, tell my brother to divide the inheritance fairly.” (Luke 12: 13-15) And, surprisingly, Jesus refuses to interfere in the quarrel or to take part in it at all. In the old version -which is rather good here- he says “Man, who made me a judge or a divider between you?”
Don’t you find that astonishing? Surely it’s exactly the sort of situation calling for justice, mercy and love? Isn’t it? I can’t imagine Solomon having any difficulty. WWSD?
And yet Jesus implied that it was not his role to interfere.
What do you think? Was it, or wasn’t it?
To consider the point in a broader way, take a step back and think about a statement like “Christianity has nothing to do with politics.”
The notion rests on a basis which is partly wrong, partly right.
On one level it’s a false assertion. It’s like saying meteorology has nothing to do with architecture. Of course, there’s no direct association, but the reason they don’t build igloos in Dublin is that some really clever people have discovered that the prevailing meteorological conditions do not allow for the design and build of such structures!
So weather conditions have nothing to do with the principles of architecture directly. But indirectly, there’s plenty of connection. You’d be crazy not to consider the climate in which you build.
And that which the air is to architecture, the life of the Spirit is to politics.
It is the very atmosphere of every issue that comes into the political arena. Directly, it determines nothing – indirectly, it conditions every problem that can arise. Ultimately, there is no split between “sacred” and “secular.” This is God’s world and “The kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”
And yet, as much as the assertion is false, it is also true. Christianity and politics are different things. And, in this sense, Jesus refused to get involved in the legality of an inheritance.
He wasn’t Robin Hood, taking a proactive role in the equitable division of funds!
He simply spoke God’s word against oppression. It was a judge’s part to decide what oppression was. It was not his role to determine the boundaries of civil right, nor to lay down the rules of inheritance. Of course there was a spiritual and moral principle involved in this question. But his mission could not be downgraded into legal advice.
So what did he say?
Jesus laid down the principle “Render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which are God’s;” and urged us to figure out what that meant in the day-to-day stuff.
It is, specifically, our role before God to figure out what justice, mercy and truth, dictate. But he would not decide whether in this definite case this or that brother had justice on his side.
We are responsible to figure it out ourselves based on the principle of love.
This is the life of the Spirit. It’s always people not projects. It’s the people who make political decisions…not the decisions themselves. Not this party or that party. God calls us to behave like family and leaves us to figure it out.
Do you see what this means?
It means that the kingdom is never based on a system of rules but on a principle of relationship. The kingdom of God is not based on outward laws but inward connection -family. So he calls to the brothers to figure it out, in love, with mutual fairness, and not the Law (even the law of what Jesus said).
Think about it: Suppose that both of the brothers were wrong in different ways. Supposing one was a bully, grabbing all the money, and the other was greedy, desiring it all. But to take from one selfish brother in order to give to another selfish brother, what spiritual gain would there have been in this?
Or what if the one with the inheritance was wrong, and the guy who had come to Jesus was right? Well, to take the property from the unjust and give it to the just might be, and was, the duty of a civil judge; but it was not Christ’s role, nor any gain to the cause of Christ.
He’s just not bothered about this stuff! It’s irrelevant – or at most a very secondary issue.
Why so? Because God does not reward His servants with inheritances, with lands, houses, gold and fancy cars! “The kingdom of God is NOT meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Another thing. And this is deliciously unpopular to say: in the choice between the Haves and the Have-nots, he refused to be the friend of one, because He was the friend of both!
He never was the champion of one class, because he was the champion of humanity.
OK, let’s assume that the questioner had been treated badly in the inheritance conflict (or, at least, he thought himself so); Jesus frequently taught about the heart-condition which would have made his brother put things right with him. “If you have anything against your brother…” But Jesus refused to take his part against his brother, just because he was his brother. This is family business, not civil law!
And this was His spirit always. The Pharisees thought to commit him to a side when they asked whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not. But he would take no side as the Christ: neither the part of the Government against the tax-payers, nor the part of the tax-payers against the Government.
Of course, it’s a common thing to hear of human rights issues – and how can those issues be wrong? And yet, this verse speaks to that.
It reminds us to be cautious about pitting one class against another, or one section of the world against another. For many years the Bible was used to defend rank and wealth – even slavery! And it was all dead flat wrong! But neither is it poor against the rich. The Bible takes neither the part of the poor against the rich exclusively, nor that of the rich against the poor.
The point that this passage makes is revolutionary. Worldly principles do not apply where is a real, deep, true brotherhood.
If these men were really brothers -at a heart level – then there would not be an issue. That was the challenge with which Jesus left them.