According to Jewish custom, rabbis could settle legal disputes when it came to the division of property between heirs, and that explains why the man described in today's passage came to Jesus to get a share of his brother's inheritance (Luke 12:13). But what is immediately striking about this passage is that Jesus did not take the opportunity to exercise His right to judge between the two brothers. Instead, the encounter provided Him with an opportunity to speak a parable warning about covetousness.
One of the most remarkable things about the Ten Commandments is that God includes in it a law against a covetous disposition (Ex. 20:17). If we were to come up with a law code, we would not likely put such a rule in place; rather, we would focus on external sins such as murder or theft. But our Creator's adding a law against covetousness represents a profound understanding of human nature. Untold destruction of families and nations has been wrought as a result of an individual's unlawful desire to possess that which rightfully belongs to another. Wars between nations typically begin because one side wants something that belongs to the other. In fact, covetousness is actually one of the primal sins of humanity. Adam and Eve coveted the knowledge of good and evil—they wanted for themselves what was proper only to the Creator—and so they grasped for it, plunging the universe headlong into ruin (Gen. 3).
Covetousness manifests itself in a lack of gratitude and generosity. There is nothing inherently wrong with being wealthy or seeking to increase one's prosperity. The danger arises when we make riches our chief end, when we are never satisfied with what we have but think that acquiring more stuff will make us happy. That is what we see in the parable of the rich fool. The rich man did not stop to thank the Lord for his prosperity. He was dissatisfied with what he had and wanted bigger and better barns so that he could hold even more. He strove to acquire more and more because he prized self-sufficiency instead of a life of dependence upon God. He did not seek to help the poor, and thus failed to show trust that the Lord would continue to provide for him (Luke 12:13–19).
What was the end of this man? God judged him for his idolatrous treatment of his wealth (vv. 20–21). People who are impenitently covetous will be likewise condemned for their lack of thankfulness and generosity.
Scripture does not condemn wealth, which can be a great tool for the kingdom of God. Instead, it condemns those who serve their wealth, men and women who make it their god and do not thank the Lord for their possessions. Our Creator calls us to be thankful and generous people. If we are not, we are likely giving in to covetousness, and we must repent and seek to serve God with our riches.