The Elderly Contractor
An elderly master carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family.
He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.
When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.”
Lifelong family friends own more than a thousand acres of land deep in Southern Mississippi, which they refer to as “the estate.” There isn’t a holiday get-together that passes without the family meeting and voting on different issues regarding the property.
It gets messy with eight brothers and sisters each having strong opinions and owning an eighth of the massive estate.
Some of the siblings have long ago moved out of state and want nothing to do with the discord or the small dividend check that comes every quarter from their inheritance.
Others believe their father would never have wanted his children to break relationship over something as petty as property. Yet resentments have grown, angry emails have been written, sides have been taken, and, most of all, relationships have been damaged and probably lost completely.
Sadly, this family’s inheritance story is not rare: those involved just have more money at stake than most of us. Greed, envy, jealousy, and entitlement seem to come out in talks of money and inheritance. Each of us has an idea what is just, what we think we deserve, and what we believe we’re entitled to.
Requesting an Inheritance While the Father is Still Alive
In his book examining the Parables from a Middle-Eastern cultural context, professor and missionary Kenneth Bailey unlocked some very interesting features of the parable of the prodigal son, here focused on what it meant to ask for your inheritance before the father had passed away. This is what he discovered:
For over fifteen years I have been asking people of all walks of life from Morocco to India and from Turkey to the Sudan about the implications of a son’s request for his inheritance while the father is still living. The answer has always been emphatically the same … the conversation runs as follows: Has anyone ever made such a request in your village? Never! Could anyone ever make such a request? Impossible! If anyone ever did, what would happen? His father would beat him, of course! Why? The request means—he wants his father to die.
Taking Care for the Next Generation
Known for their luxury watches, Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe has also become well-known for its clever advertising slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely take care of it for the next generation.” So it is with what we “own”: money, gifts, ministries, time, and our very lives.
See also illustrations on Legacy