Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Beware of covetousness

13 And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
14 And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (Luke 12:13-15)
I often would wonder if the man who came to Jesus was somewhat disappointed at Christ’s refusal to intervene to settle his parents’ estate. Christ would be the fairest arbiter any, would He not?

However, I recently realized that Christ was thinking far ahead. He anticipated going to the man’s house, being introduced as the one who was going to divide everything fairly (probably with many pointed glares at the brother who was believed to be withholding rightful property). He anticipated the probable resentment and then suspicion raised in the other brother at the presence of an interloping Christ (no matter how well-intentioned), and the probability that Christ’s decision would be protested and contested by the other brother.

I think Christ realized that the brother who came to Him was saying in effect, “Make my brother give me my fair share.”

Making the other brother be fair wouldn’t bring any spiritual benefit at all. Christ is not focused just on the outward fairness; He’s very concerned and anxious that outward fairness be born of genuine inward feeling and charity.

But further than this, Christ discerned that the man in front of Him had a problem too, which would keep him out of heaven if it wasn’t addressed. And interestingly enough it was something that would always look like someone else’s problem unless it was pointed out. That’s the way covetousness is. It looks like someone isn’t giving you your fair share, like you are getting the raw deal and the short end of the stick. And the more you actually deserve it (whatever it is that you want), the more justified you feel… and the more justified you feel, the more dangerous covetousness is because it becomes far to easy to focus on how you feel you are getting shafted and forget everything good about the relationship.

“Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

There’s more to life than what you deserve but aren’t getting.

Another thing I’ve always thought interesting about this incident is that Christ almost seems to deny His divine right of ownership over the planet that He created. But I suspect that His reluctance to be the judge and divider indicates that this judging and dividing wasn’t meant to happen yet. He still had to set the example and preach repentance and minister. He still had to work out the Atonement. He had to give people their chances. It wasn’t time yet. (Give people the rope, and they either hang themselves or make beautiful macramé. But you still have to give the rope.)

But back to this idea of bewaring of covetousness. This is very difficult to do in our culture of rights, rights, and more rights. Paul’s idea that charity “seeketh not her own” seems foreign to us, right along with the idea of “whoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

One of the greatest visible examples of “not seeking one’s own” in my life right now is my husband. When he makes the food (which is most of the time), he serves me first. When he’s making pancakes or waffles, he loads everything onto my plate until I’m full before he makes food for himself. To me, that’s huge. When there is some extra yummy leftovers he insists that I have some first and even then, he always leaves some left over. (We joke that this is the Stephens Food Politeness Gene that will continue to only take half of whatever is left over until there is only a microscopic bit of dessert left in the pan.) He says the motor scooter is my scooter and insists I ride it, even when I prefer to think of it as our scooter and I know he really loves riding it too. (Today I made him ride it.) I could list a number of other significant ways that he puts me before himself.

I feel like I need to look for more ways to put him first.


Anonymous said...

Hard topic. It is easier to think it is all about our motive to do good to others before ourselves like yr husband. Why did the parable father give the inheritace to the younger son even he knew he is going to waste his possession with prodigal living? If the father is dead, if I am the elder son, I will not give the share to this younger brother knowing he is going to squander it. Is this sin of convet? If my motive is right?