A person from the crowd requests that Jesus intervene in a dispute about inheritance.
Jesus refuses. He's not one to judge in those matters. His only advice is not to be greedy. After all, life's substance has nothing to do with what you own.
Jesus offers a little illustration of this principle. Did you expect any less?
There's this wealthy guy who owns an exceedingly productive field. In today's economy, we might say he gets huge returns on his stocks. The guy's returns are so big that he's run out of storage room for what he's earned. What's he going to do?
He decides to raze his current warehouses and replace them with bigger ones. Bigger is always better, right? Then he'll have room for all of his produce and other possessions.
Afterward, he can assure himself, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry" (12:19).
Sounds good, right?
God has a different idea, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (12:20).
There you have it. That's how it is for people who hoard stuff for themselves but aren't wealthy toward God. So the disciples shouldn't worry about where they're going to eat their next meal or about their clothes.
Why not? Well, "life" or the "soul" (12:23; the Greek can be translated either way) goes way beyond basic nourishment. Ditto for the body's need for clothing.
Take ravens, for example. (Why not?)
They're not farmers. They don't have storerooms or barns. Yet God sure does care for their basic needs.
And people are way more important than birds. (Sorry, PETA, we're just the messenger.)
Is worrying a foolproof method for increasing the length of life or something?
Nope. (Tell our mom that.)
So why are they doing it? "How about another example, Jesus?"
"Sure, Shmoop. Think about lilies."
"Yes, Shmoop. What are you, a disciple? Get it through your thick head."
Okay, back to the lilies. They don't do any work, but their clothes are slicker than Solomon's—and he was king.
And they're practically grass, which grows and withers in one day. Won't God take even more care to give you the clothing that you need?
People who worry are people of "little faith" (12:28).
Disciples really should avoid getting worked up over food and drink. After all, God is the "father" who knows their needs.
Okay, so we know the disciples shouldn't worry. What should they do? Put God's kingdom first, and basic needs will follow.
Jesus is pulling out his big gun and firing off an explosive demand. Ready for it?
His disciples are to sell their possessions and perform acts of compassion.
For this they'll get a wallet that doesn't wear out and a bank account that no thieves or financial crash can touch.
Their bank's in heaven, where there's security that no thief can get past, not even the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Matt Damon. And if thieves can't get at it, moths won't be able to eat holes in your stuff either. That's good news, we guess.
Bottom line: whatever people treasure is a sure indication of where their loyalties lie.
Unlike the wealthy guy in 12:16-21, the disciples should always stand ready, all belted up and holding lamps that are lit. After all, God might at any moment demand the ultimate reckoning.
So the disciples should imitate servants who are waiting their master's return from a wedding. They'll want to be ready to open the door for him when he knocks. And happiness will belong to those servants who are awake when their masters get back.
There'll be a reversal of roles. The master will be the one serving the servant while they dine and recline. He might not get back until after the Late Late Show, but they'll be happy as long as they've stayed awake.
In slow motion ask yourself what this story's really about. Hint: Jesus.
Here's another illustration. How many thieves would be successful if they scheduled a time to come rob your house? Is 3:30PM good for you?
The general idea is that you've always got to be ready because that's not how theft works.
The return of Jesus follows the very same logic. So be vigilant and be ready.
Peter wants to know whether this is valid only for disciples like him or for everyone. Good question, Peter. We were too shy to ask.
In response, Jesus spins another illustrative story. This guy's good!
What happens when a master is away? Well, he lets a trustworthy and wise servant dole out the food to everyone.
If the servant's doing just that when the master gets back, then kudos to him. He'll even get a promotion to chief servant.
But if said servant feels like his master's taking forever and starts to be a jerk to the others, eat, drink, and get drunk, what do you think's going to happen?
When his master returns, he'll catch his servant managing affairs badly. And—wait for it—he'll rip the servant's limbs and place them with "the unfaithful" (12:46 NRSV). Harsh.
To answer your question, Peter, you bet this applies to you.
Translation: If a person who knows the Lord's will (Peter & co.) doesn't translate knowledge into action, he'll be in trouble. Big trouble.
If a person who doesn't know the Lord's will acts this same way, he'll be in big trouble, too. But not as much trouble as the guy who's in the know.
For Peter and other disciples, the job is just that much bigger.
Jesus says that his purpose for coming is ultimately to bring fire to the earth, and he simply cannot wait until it's completed.
He knows he'll be the cause of division, even though everyone's expecting that he'll bring peace.
Take a second to compare this to Simeon's prediction in 2:34-35 and to grapple with how all of this talk of conflict jives with very real promises of peace (recall 2:14, 29; 7:50; 8:48).
Because of Jesus, five people in one household will turn against each other. There'll be enmity between fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, and mothers-in-law. And it's not even Thanksgiving.
Jesus gives another little illustration. You know, just for good measure.
You know it's going to rain when you see dark clouds in the west; you know it's going to be hot when you feel the south wind blowing. If you can analyze the weather in these ways, you should be able to do the same for signs of the time.
Jesus (finally) comes full circle to the guy who asked Jesus to serve as judge for his dispute with his brother over their inheritance (rewind to 12:13).
Answer: they should settle their dispute privately. In fact, this holds true in general for anyone embroiled in legal disputes. Reconcile with each other before you go so far as to appear before an arbitrator.