I wish I knew more about the scene. The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 12, begins with Jesus teaching a crowd, a very large crowd. He teaches like no one else, warning them about hypocritical religious teachers, assuring them that God loves his children completely and knows them down to the very hairs on their heads. When will the Holy Spirit of God ever leave them? Never!
Was it right in the middle of these amazing words that a shriveled little man in the crowd spoke up? “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!”
What? An estate squabble? Front and center, now? I wonder how many people in the crowd are beginning to wonder if this amazing teacher might actually be the Messiah? At the very least, his teaching is spellbinding. It taps directly into deep meaning and truth. And that’s it, isn’t it? It’s true to what is. His words point to reality in a way that almost takes his listeners’ breath away; they want him to keep teaching and never stop.
Oh, they’ve heard charlatans and rabble rousers, easy answer manipulators and slimy hucksters. Nothing new. That ilk could always attract crowds for a while. Maybe they gave out caps; they certainly gave out cotton candy “solutions” with no substance, antifreeze lollipops to crowds of cats with a taste for poison. But in the face of this rabbi’s teaching, the fire-up-the-crowd words of the flash-in-the-pan charlatans shattered like glass hitting granite. A penlight trying to light up the morning sun. A kazoo player trying to steal the show from the London Philharmonic.
So, yes, the people listen, enthralled at the words of Jesus, and this stunted little creature with his cap (okay, I’m kidding), his withered soul, and his boatload of resentment, wails out in a thin and grating tone a report of his brother’s greed.
Has this guy not heard anything? Is nothing but a cold black drizzle of grievance left where his living soul once resided? If the tables are turned… If he gets the “win” he wants, squashes his brother, scrapes up even a few more than his fair share of the family shekels, how happy is a person utterly devoid of wisdom, character, and integrity likely to be?
That last is perhaps at the root of the problem. A person with integrity has “strong moral and ethical principles and values.” Many in our society may laugh at such, but even as we deride foundational values, we still bump up against them and must deal with their reality. Gravity doesn’t go away because one finds it inconvenient. And we’re soon reminded of another important aspect of integrity. It’s also “the state of being whole and undivided.” Most of us know it when we see it. Just as surely, when we feel it, it feels good, reassuring, worthy of trust, like something that will bear weight. We might not immediately say, “That is a person of integrity,” but we feel it.
Yes. And here’s a test. Just pick out a few names at random—historical figures, people you know, political figures or other well-known folks—and fill in the blank. “I believe that ______ is/was a person of integrity.”
When I tried this little experiment, I was surprised. It works better than I’d have expected. My reactions were stronger and easier to catalog than I had expected.
With some names, it almost blinks green, “Yes!” With some other folks, you just don’t have enough information. Inconclusive.
But, with others still, it’s either a resounding “No!” or, just as likely, almost a sad giggle or laughter. It’s as if even a sentence with the word “integrity” in it will convulse until it’s shaken that person’s name from its midst. It’s just wrong for it to be there, and your soul issues a groan at the thought. You may even try to coax the sentence into letting the name stay put, but the other words won’t let it. That’s the right call, and you’re honest, and you know it.
Now, for a moment, why not head back to Luke 12 and give the test a try? Try it with Jesus. I’m serious. The meter rushes to the top. Try it with the aggrieved brother. What happens to the meter then? A stark contrast.
How much of this man’s soul has he already killed himself? What is left? All we know is that Jesus says, basically, “Fellow, why would you think your estate squabble is my business? But far more seriously than you realize, and for your own good, we really do need to talk about greed. Not your brother’s. Yours.”
Then Jesus tells his pointed parable of “The Rich Fool.” It’s well worth reading and pondering. The rich guy has obtained much more stuff than he can store away, and he’s planning some serious expansion. But Jesus asks what will happen to all of that pathetic man’s stuff when, that very night, he dies. Will it really matter then that he’s the richest corpse in the funeral home?
I wonder if the poor mistreated brother listening to Jesus teach got the message. I rather doubt it. I’m afraid his soul was already too shriveled. How else could he have been so oblivious to the words of life from the Word of life?
Integrity matters. It matters forever. We disregard it at great peril.
Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.