Exodus 20:15 (NKJV)
15 “You shall not steal.
On one occasion Jesus was ministering and teaching to an innumerable multitude of people. So many had gathered that they trampled one another, each eager to hear the words he would speak. As he was teaching, a man in the crowd shouted, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Clearly this man was presenting Jesus with an opportunity, had he been a demagogue courting popular opinion or a revolutionary trying to lead an uprising, to rile up the crowd. Money always gets people excited. Jesus could have used this as a springboard to speak of the injustice of the inheritance laws or the excessive nature of Roman taxation. “Let us rise up; let us protest; I’m your man! Follow me!” But Jesus was neither a demagogue nor a revolutionary. The man in the crowd had misjudged Jesus.
Instead Jesus speaks bluntly to this fellow, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Essentially Jesus is reminding the man that there is a lawful way to handle his complaint – and that lawful way was to appeal to the magistrates, to appeal to the courts who would decide in such case what was good and just. Jesus was no revolutionary.
But Jesus then goes further and speaks to the multitude: “Take heed,” he declares, “and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” Jesus exposes the sin that was at the root of this man’s request and of our drive to revolutionary action: covetousness. Hardly the type of response that a successful demagogue should make!
Unlike Jesus, our politicians regularly use class envy as a tool to propel themselves into power. “Tax the rich; take from those who have more. We’ll make your brother divide that inheritance with you! he shouldn’t have so much!” In his response to the crowds, Jesus exposes the sin that is at the root of this mentality: it is coveting that which God has given to another; it is theft.
But covetousness is not something that afflicts only politicians. The reason that we fall prey to the pleas of politicians, demagogues, and revolutionaries is that we are covetous; we desire more than God has given. But Jesus rebukes our covetousness and reminds us that our life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess. Instead, a meaningful life consists of loving God and loving our neighbor, of laying up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy. And this is true for rich and poor alike.
And so reminded that we are not to steal, not to take from others in order that we might have more, let us kneel this morning and confess that we are often envious and covetous of others’ possessions.