Splitting an inheritance can reveal our inner darkness

By Glen Argan

Few things provoke more greed, anger and mistrust in families than the dividing of an estate. I have seen a will used as a spiteful father’s final stab of vengeance against his least-favoured son. I have seen the surviving children manoeuvre to exclude the descendants of their deceased sibling from receiving any part of the inheritance. And I have observed a greedy son only rarely visit his mother who suffered from dementia; after her death, he took the estate and was never seen again by other family members.

1926The old saw which says you don’t know a person until you have divided an estate with them is true. Many people have the crazy notion that they actually deserve their parents’ hard-earned savings and assets. But why? They have done nothing to deserve even a portion of the estate. Whatever one might receive from Mom and Dad’s estate is pure gift. You may have a legal right to some of it, but you have no moral right.

In Sunday’s Gospel, someone in the crowd listening to Jesus urges Jesus to order the man’s brother to divide the family inheritance with him. What a sense of entitlement! Jesus rebuffs the man’s request and proceeds to tell a parable illustrating the truth that those who store up treasures for themselves have turned their backs on God.

The parable of the foolish landowner tells of a farmer who harvests a huge bumper crop. He has no place to store all the grain. So he tears down all his storage facilities to build even larger barns. There, he will store his crop until the prices rise and he can charge an even higher price for his grain. The farmer tells himself, “You have ample goods stored up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

Then, Jesus delivers the kicker: the landowner will die that very night. What then will become of all the wealth he has hoarded? The man has acquired much material wealth, but he is “not rich toward God.”

The landowner is foolish because he has failed to see what is of real value. He has acquired “mountains and mountains of things” (Tracy Chapman), but gives nothing to the poor in his midst and nothing to God.

Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm offers the response to the landowner’s foolishness: “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Similarly, in the Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul says, “Set your minds in things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Wisdom means keeping our sense of entitlement firmly in check. God, through our parents, has given us life itself. When we become oriented to grovelling for money, we lose sight of the most basic fact of our existence – everything is a gift.

Sunday readings for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 4, 2019
Ecclesiastes 1.2; 2.21-23 | Psalm 90 | Colossians 3.1-5, 9-11 | Luke 12.13-21

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