The Question of Inheritance

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


Lk 12:13-21

We discussed the loss of inheritance in one of our previous meditations. Inheritance comes into focus  once again. Here is a man requesting Jesus to arbitrate between his brother and himself on the division of their inheritance. Inheritance is not just any property. It is the right of sons to family inheritance, or property that has been in the family for generations, from their fathers in the Jewish legal system. A son does not have the right to the property that his father acquired by his hard work. But he has the right to the property that his father inherited from his grandfather.

Inheritance is property that no right-minded Jew would ever squander. You may remember the story of Naboth from the Old Testament. King Ahab wanted to buy the vineyard of Naboth, which was part of his inheritance. Naboth would not part with his inheritance, like all Jews. Jezebel, the foreign wife of Ahab, had Naboth stoned to death with false accusations, to illegally usurp his property. This led to Prophet Elijah storming into the presence of Ahab and prophesying the end of him and his wife. The duo meet their miserable end later during the time of Elisha (1 Kings 21:1–22:54). The story narrates how the link to the inheritance is etched in the heart of the Israelites. The rivalry between Esau and Jacob escalated when the latter cheated Esau out of the parental blessing (part of the inheritance too) by treachery.

We are discussing how important inheritance is for people. They will give their life for it. Well! That is exactly the focus of the question that Jesus pushes unto us. Inheritance is the property one is willing to trade his life for! Jesus would ask the question, “Is it worth losing your eternal life for temporary inheritance?” The inheritance one should worry about is that of the Kingdom of God, and not of this world. We will return to this focus later.

I imagine the family background of this man who requests Jesus to arbitrate the inheritance division. He apparently has been wronged. Every good father divides the property between his children and makes sure his family is well settled before he dies. It looks like the father had not managed to do it in this case. Maybe he died unexpectedly. Imagine this as the younger brother in the story of the Prodigal Son! Imagine the father died not long after he reinstated the lost son to the household. And the older son, because he resented the younger one, after the father’s death, claimed the entire property as his own. From this point, it is easy to weave the remainder of the story according to our own sense of justice and mercy. If we are not superficial about it, the story we craft will represent exactly the state of our mind with regard to Christian values.

There is a little story in the Indian epic,  the Mahabharata, which deals with the question of inheritance between the children of two brothers. On one side are a hundred brothers, known as the Kauravas, while on the other are five – known as the Pandavas. The hundred-strong brothers cheated the five out of their inheritance and would not return it. War was the only solution. The commanders of both armies went to meet the divinely-powerful Krishna, a family friend of both parties. When they arrived, Krishna was asleep. The commander of the hundred brothers immediately took his place at the head of the bed to claim his superior bargaining capacity. The other, the eldest of the Pandavas, stood humbly at the foot. As Krishna opened his eyes, he saw the humble Pandava brother first and asked  him what he wanted. But the Pandava brother pointed out the presence of the other commander and gave him the privilege of asking for support first. Krishna gives the Kaurava commander a choice of  about a hundred thousand infantry and about the same number of elephants, horses and chariots, or  only Krishna himself. The proud Kaurava commander did not perceive the need for divine power on his side during a war and chose the large infantry and equipment. The humble Pandava brother, as he had desired, got to choose the divine Krishna, and won the war.

The story brings us back to the focus on inheritance. It is a failure of perception to see that God and his Kingdom cannot be equated with the most valuable thing on earth, even one’s inheritance. God is the greatest inheritance one can receive, as the Psalmist says, “The Lord is my portion and cup” (Psalm 16:5).

When the young man had come to ask Jesus how he might inherit the Kingdom of God, Jesus lovingly asked him to sell all he had and distribute the money to the poor. The man went away sad because he was rich and could not bring himself to sell all he had.

After Jesus narrated the story of the rich fool, we do not know what the response was of the one who asked Jesus to arbitrate the case. Perhaps he was convinced that he was greedy and stopped fighting for the inheritance, or he might have realized that his brother was greedy, but it was not worth the fight if it did not guarantee him an inheritance in the Kingdom of God.

Live not for what is worth living but for what is worth dying for.