Bible readers are
very familiar with stories of enmity between brothers in
ancient Mediterranean families: Jacob and Esau (Gn 27);
Joseph and his eleven brothers (Gn 37). Inheritance
was often a key cause of the enmity.
The brothers praised in Psalm 133:1 for living together in unity illustrate the
situation where a father died and did not specify a division of the inheritance.
to Roman law, a division of inheritance was required only if both parties
wanted it. Judaic law allowed the division on the petition of a single son (see Lk 15:12), but it was shameful because it effectively expressed the wish that
the father were already dead.
Jesus The Mediator
In today’s story Jesus is invited to be a mediator, a very difficult but highly
honorable role in this culture. Conflicts can easily escalate to blood feuds
that no one wants.
The key role of the mediator is to head off the blood feuds.
The role is honored and advocated in the Matthean Beatitudes (Mt 5:9) “Truly
worthy of esteem, truly honorable are the peacemakers for they will be
Jesus gives the real reason for his refusal. He suspected he was being drawn into a conflict driven by greed.Ideally the mediator is a kinsperson at least five links removed from the disputing
parties. Above all, the mediator should be a person who, because of personality,
status, respect, wealth, influence, or other characteristics, can create in the
litigants a willingness to conform with his decision.
Jesus responds to the honorable invitation in two ways. First, he adopts the
customary role of cultural humility. Paying and receiving compliments is dangerous
in this culture. Jesus protects himself against envy and the evil eye by his
feigned humility: “Friend, who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you?”
Second, Jesus gives the real reason for his refusal. He suspected he was being
drawn into a conflict driven by greed.
The Parable And Greed
In Jesus’ parable about the man with the bumper crop, God is not pleased with
his plan to “save for the future” in bigger barns. God calls this man
a fool! The man deserves God’s judgment.
The man is clearly a landowner, a minuscule
minority in Jesus’ world. He appears to live on his land and share in the work
of the land. When he realizes the magnitude of his crops, he plans to tear down
his barns and build bigger ones.
But his “future planning” is condemned by God and even by the words
of the fool himself. “You have ample goods laid up for many years,” said
the fool. “Relax, eat, drink, and be merry” (Lk 12:19).
He stores for
future lean years, but not simply for his own pleasure. When the village smallholders
have to come to him and borrow grain, he will charge an exorbitant price in hopes
of confiscating even more land for himself.
What should the fool have done? The same anyone else in that position should
have done: distribute the surplus to others, immediately.
The lucky landowner
was in a good position to become a “patron” to select even more clients,
or simply to be beneficent.
He might have done what Jesus praised the shrewd
steward for doing (Lk 16:1-9): using surplus wealth as a means to gain friends
so that when the wealth is gone, the friends will remain and repay the kindnesses,
as this culture expects.
Our ancestors never fail to challenge us.
John J. Pilch
Back to the Word
J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and
facilitator of parish renewals.
Liturgical Press has published
fourteen books by Pilch exploring the
“cultural world” of the Bible.
Go to http://www.litpress.org/ to
find out more.
Copyright © 1997 by The Order of St.
Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, MN.
All rights reserved.
Used by permission from The
Liturgical Press, Collegeville,
The complete text of the
above article can be found in:
The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C
John J. Pilch. The Liturgical Press. 1997. pp. 118-120.
Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the
(A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training
Publications. This art may be reproduced
only by parishes who purchase the
collection in book or CD-ROM form. For
more information go to: http://www.ltp.org/