It was the largest crowd yet. So many people had gathered that they almost trampled on one another trying to see Jesus (Luke 12:1). One man pushed close to Jesus who had an important request that, if granted, would give him financial security. He blurted out: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).
Maybe his older brother did not want to give him a share of his deceased father’s estate. Jesus often helped those who had suffered injustice from others. But Jesus’ answer surprised everyone: “Man, who made Me a judge between you and your brother?” (NIV Luke 12:14). Why does Jesus deny His role as Judge and answer him the way He did? He was not appointed to decide judicial cases between people. He is saying, “I’m not a judge to handle your financial affair; I’m here to judge people’s heart. Jesus judged the man for his greed rather than his inheritance between him and his brother.
To make sure the crowd understood His point, Jesus taught them a foundational truth: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus then tells the story of a man who planned to build bigger barns to store his great harvests. But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided (Luke 12:20).” Jesus concluded: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich towards God” (Luke 12:21).
Since God is the Creator of everything, He can provide us with anything we need. If we really believe this we will follow Jesus’ advice in Luke 12:22-34 to seek God’s kingdom first and not worry about physical needs. It is not that we don’t need food, clothing, or other things. Jesus says: “Don’t worry,” because “your Father knows that you need them (Luke 12:30).”
Jesus concludes with a call to sell one’s possessions and help the poor. The result will be a treasure in heaven that cannot be destroyed because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). In essence, Jesus is saying, “What you value, determines your future.” God values people. He was willing to pay for them with His own life. Your possessions are only valuable as they are used to provide for the needs of people whom Jesus loves.
Douglas Jacobs, D.Min.
Professor of Church Ministry and Homiletics
School of Religion, Southern Adventist University