Gather a few toddlers into a room filled with toys and eventually, there will be tears. Even though there are plenty of toys to go around one of them will lay claim to a particular truck, doll, or stuffed animal which another toddler also wants. Tears will flow, punches might be thrown, and appeals to the higher court of Mom will be filed. Little Johnny, Teddy, Suzy, or Barbara will be scolded and commanded to share. Which then begins another round of tears and appeals as the truck, doll, or stuffed animal is taken away. Don’t get me wrong. The need to teach the value of sharing is a vital part of growing up. But somewhere along the way, we fall back into the Tyranny of Mine. We lay claims, mark our territory, and erect walls to protect what we see or feel is ours. While toddlers fight over red fire trucks and frizzy haired dolls with pink dresses we fight over things like money, power, possessions, authority, reputations, privilege, honor, and time. By laying our claims, marking our territory, and erecting our walls we turn those things into idols; gods to be cared for, protected, and worshiped.
Jesus taught against the Tyranny of Mine in Luke 16. This passage of Luke is constructed like a sandwich of a parable, a teaching, and a parable that should be considered as a whole. The key verse to unlocking the whole is Jesus instruction – “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13, NASB95)
The first parable, The Unrighteous Steward (Luke 16:1-9), is, of all of Jesus’ parables, probably the most difficult one to grasp its meaning. On the surface, it seems to advocate stealing from an employer to gain worldly friends so that when our world falls apart we’ll have somewhere to run to. However, that doesn’t make sense or track with the rest of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels. One commentary* suggests that the steward was charging exorbitant interest which was hurting his employer’s business and thus why he was fired. This would explain why he could tell the customers to reduce their bills and why the employer was impressed by the steward’s shrewdness.
Reading on it would seem that Jesus is changing gears, shifting from the trap of wealth to the steadfast witness of the Law and the Prophets (essentially our Old Testament). But Jesus actually draws out two points in the final parable of Luke 16:19-31 (The Rich Man and Lazarus). Jesus’ major point concerns the witness of the Law and the Prophets but He also continues His instruction about the Tyranny of Mine.
Is there any doubt that the rich man in the parable suffered from the Tyranny of Mine? At any point in his life, the rich man could have taken what was his and comforted the suffering of the poor man Lazarus. God even made it easy and placed Lazarus right outside of the rich man’s gate. Even in the torments of hell, the rich man suffers from the Tyranny of Mine as he seeks to be comforted by the very person he refused to help. After Abraham points out why it is impossible for Lazarus to ease his pain the rich man asks that Lazarus be returned to his life of suffering in order to bear witness to the rich man’s family so they could escape his fate. Even in the flames, the rich man could not escape captivity to his carefully crafted idol of mine.
In between these two parables, Jesus addresses his audience and the Pharisees. (Luke 16:13-18) In these short verses, he addresses several specific Tyrannies of Mine in the forms of wealth, self-righteousness, reputation and power, self-designed religion**, and – seemingly unconnected – sex, marriage, and commitments (vs 18). Like a mother scolding a child, Jesus is reminding his hearers that God has already declared an end to the Tyranny of Mine in the Law and Prophets. Likewise, toddlers parse the “Law of Mom”; after all, while she said they had to share the red fire truck she didn’t say anything about the blue race car. Like those toddlers, we also tend to parse the Word of God looking for loopholes; seeking ways to declare “Mine!” when it really isn’t.
So I invite you to pray about this, where have you allowed the Tyranny of Mine to control your heart, your words, and your actions, and your inaction. Consider money and possessions – Is most or some yours or does it all belong to God. Consider power, authority, and responsibility – do you own these things or do you steward, shepherd, and shape knowing that these belong to God alone. Consider reputation, privilege, and honor – Do you understand that all the glory belongs to God and even if men and women account these things to our credit it is only because of God’s work in your life. Lastly consider time, perhaps the one thing that we guard most diligently of all in the Tyranny of Mine. Consider whether each moment of your life really belongs to God and how you can share that precious gift with others. Only by destroying the Tyranny of Mine in our lives we can truly serve God – “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and anything else (wealth).” (Luke 16:13, NASB95)
* Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Luke 16
** Self-designed religion. I derive this from the later part of Luke 16:16 which reads, ““The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” (Luke 16:16, NASB95) This has always been another puzzler for me. Looking at it in the context. John and Jesus both experienced success in accumulating followers however not everyone was a disciple. Many joined the crowd to weld the teaching of God’s Kingdom into their own thoughts and beliefs instead of submitting to the teaching. In many ways, they were like the thieves of John 10:1-10 that climb over the wall (enter by force) instead of entering the Kingdom of God through the doorway of Jesus Christ.