This Sunday’s Gospel lesson always feels like a non sequitur to me. Either that, or a story Luke added in to solve a stewardship problem in his church. It start with a man blurting out to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” I mean, really? Throughout the course of the Gospels, we often see Jesus the Rabbi invoked to settle theological debates, but off the top of my head, this is the only time we see Jesus invited to act as a judge. From the time of Moses on, this case would have been taken to an elder or a judge for settlement, yet here we find a man, obviously ticked off at his brother, asking Jesus to weigh in on a family matter he knows nothing about.
From there, we get Jesus telling the Parable of the Rich Fool, which sort of deals with the question of this man’s inheritance, but sounds a whole lot more like Luke’s church is having trouble raising funds. As a stewardship text, it comes at a particularly bad time of the year, since many Episcopalians forget that Sunday morning worship exists in the month of July. I’ll dig into the theological claims of this parable later in the week, but for now, I’m content to try to figure out why Luke includes this story and why the RCL thought it was worth telling in the dog days of summer every three years?
To try to figure this out, having noticed that we’ve jumped from early in Luke 11 to midway through Luke 12, I decided to get my bearings. Where are we? What’s been going on? How’d this man end up so close to Jesus? Luke answers these questions in the bits we skipped along the way. It seems that decrying lawyers was a popular in first century Palestine as it is today.
The second half of Luke 11 has Jesus spewing “woe to yous” to hypocritical lawyers and Pharisees, while Luke 12 opens with crowds number in the thousands. There were so many people following Jesus at this point that they were trampling over one another to get a glimpse of him. One can imagine the sound of hundred of voices crying out for Jesus to help them. The sick, the demon possessed, the hungry, and yes, in one particular case, the jealous and greedy, all vying for Jesus’ attention. It is no wonder this story seems so awkward or out of place. Luke could have chosen any of a hundred or more these encounters between Jesus and a needy person in the crowd. Hopefully, as the week unfolds, we’ll understand why he chose this one.