So this is C. S Lewis’s famous trilemma: when Jesus is outrageous, as he often is, you have to decide. Do you laugh him off as a lunatic, blow him off as a liar, or bow the knee as to your Lord?
The aggrieved brother in Luke 12 was faced with Lewis’s trilemma. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” he asks, perfectly reasonably.
Jesus is having none of it. “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”
In other words: “You are on your own, buddy. You make your own inheritance-pursuing-or-relinquishing choices. Don’t involve me.”
But he advises him, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Beware of greed: wanting more than you need. Because life is not about amassing money or stuff.
And then he bursts into story. A rich man got richer. Instead of enjoying his wealth right now, living in the present, and sharing some of it, he decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store his surplus, “enough for many years”. And THEN he will “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’
But God calls him a fool, because he was living in future tense. He would die that very day without enjoying his wealth at all, and without getting to share it in the way he might have wished.
It is foolish to store up wealth, instead of being generous towards the priorities of God, Jesus concludes. (Which I interpret literally, that Jesus calls those foolish who waste their precious lives storing up wealth.)
* * *
Brothers and inheritances have suddenly become an issue for us. Roy’s grandmother left substantial money in Roy’s name, and we’ve been pressured by his “baby’ brother to sign it over to their mum, to be left to her heir. And given that he has power of attorney, we are suspicious as who that might be. She has bought this brother rental properties and retirement homes, so that he, a medical doctor, Cambridge-educated like Roy, has spent his life adventuring in mountains, rarely doing paid work, whereas we, we’ve worked hard, and, and…
Can you hear me hyperventilating?…And can you sense the terrible tedium of family financial politics, and the resentment, and emails are flying, and all of us are committed Christians, and it is getting ugly. And an uncle, a judge, as it happens, audacious, outrageous, takes the brothers side. He wants to control the money, putting in trust, supposedly for the mum, but we’re suspicious, and blackmails us with far-fetched threats. Time-zone differences mean we go to sleep and wake up with harassing emails about money!!
And my peace, which I believe is the normal state for a Christian, is being shaken. Blogger Emily Wierenga says a kiss is never just a kiss. It involves “hips, lips, heart, mind and neglected childhoods.” So too a family financial dispute is never only about money. It’s about who was cleverer, and who was the favourite, and who has been more successful and what is owned to the ugly duckling. It’s about greed and resentment and fear and lack of trust in God. It’s about living as if God cannot even now give us twelve legions of inheritances.
I had told Roy: I am the writer, let me handle this, but this all got too filthy-ugly for me and affected my peace and my sleep and my weight and my blogging. I was being dragged down by other people’s greed, and our own intransigence.
* * *
So yesterday, I walk alone to the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall in the Brecon Beacons before going to the Cwmbran revival meetings (on which more soon).
And as I walk, I hear the voice of Jesus say tenderly, “Anita, do you remember my fable about brothers and inheritances and bewaring of greed?”
Me, warily, “Yeees.”
I am sullen and silent. Feeling very rebellious.
And he’s silent too. He’s a gentleman that way.
* * *
And me, crossly, “Roy’s worked hard for our house, and that baby brother, aged 48, gets houses just for the asking, and he’s rarely done any paid work, and now he’s trying to get this inheritance too, and it’s just not fair.”
But now it’s down to this: Liar, lunatic or Lord. Do I believe Jesus when he says “Beware of greed?” Or not?
When bossy little me helps my peaceful husband contend for his inheritance, we are stressed. I don’t feel I am living in the waterfall of God’s love. Take my little paws off contending, which is greed, and I am at peace again. We can live without the inheritance (as can all the other people contending for it, incidentally).
So after six weeks of emails escalating in bitterness and incivility and the general imploding craziness of family financial feuds, I write saying: No more contending on our parts; no more quarrelling; this is the last email from us on the subject.
Don’t quarrel and fight, James says. If you want something, ask God.
* * *
Following Jesus is a matter of these little hair-pin decisions. You either do what he says, and continue ascending with him on the narrow paths that lead to life, or laugh at him as the man must have done who wanted an inheritance and got a story, and then go on into a world of stress and contention, wealth perhaps, but a whole lot less peace, because you will no longer be walking according to the eccentric, infuriating, outrageous, apparently nutty dictates of Him who is wisdom incarnate.
* * *
The Christian life is like that, a tricky business.
Every now and then, Jesus asks you in the silence of your heart. “So, honey, are we going to do this my way? Or your way?”
The choice is yours. If you say, “Jesus, to be frank, your way is nuts. Not contend for our inheritance, indeed!” he will look at you sadly, but not push the point.
And your paths will diverge, and one day you will look at him sadly, remember the romance you once had, the love you once shared, the time he lived within you like a stream of living waters, and you will be sad.
So I make my choice. No more contending. Yeah, I will hold on to Jesus with both hands, will dance with him, and I will let Him take care of inheritances. Or even, God forbid, the lack of them!