It's a funny word, inheritance. In one way, we seek in life to provide an inheritance for the generations that will succeed us. In another, we receive an inheritance from those who have gone before. What I am caught on this morning, though, is the question of whether we ever truly can possess an inheritance. I am sure that many legacies are entrusted to us in this life. We receive, from the outset, the genetics of our ancestors upon our conception. We receive emotional, mental, physical and spiritual responses from our family systems as our parents, or their surrogates, raise us. We receive teachings from mentors, coaches, instructors, preachers and leaders that further condition those responses. Those are just our interior legacies. On the outside, we live in a world provided to us as a construct of former generations. Where we live, how we live, what we live in context alongside....is there a single point in our lives that is NOT an inheritance?
And yet, there still lies that question of possessing any inheritance. Can we really hold on to those things? We have none until we enter this life...and when we die, what we have must perforce pass to another.
Still, while we are here, inheritance is pretty much our way of being. In John today, Jesus continues to grapple with the Pharisees, this time over a controversial healing. A crippled man lies on a mat by the pool of Bethsaida. He has no one to help him into the healing waters, and so is confined to his present state. In his persistence, Jesus commends him for his faith, tells him to get up, take up his mat and walk. Wonderful, what a gift of healing! And what a problem! It is the Sabbath, and one does not carry anything on the Sabbath. That breaks the legacy of the Law of God, given to Israel by Moses and passed down through the ages to the present generations (read: the Pharisees). The man is given life, and is also provided with a new legacy of ability to walk with which to gift the world. He is also now a weapon of controversy in Jesus increasingly tense relations with the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Not all inheritances bring peace, or advantage.
On the other hand, the tribes of Israel continues to inherit their portions of the Holy Land as Joshua casts lots before the Lord. Soon, the land and the people of Israel will have their rest after the hard work of entering and conquering the territories God has set aside for them as a fulfillment of the Promise made to Abraham and his seed forever. Great news, for Israel. I am sure the now-displaced, former inhabitants of the Land are not as enthusiastic.
All of this rumination comes around to a tension that I find increasingly demanding of my prayers and attention in the midst of early, middle age. One pole of that tension is in the joy I feel at being-by God's grace and the love of Christ-an heir of the Kingdom of God. By baptism and the Holy Spirit, I know that my legacy in the Body of Christ is sure. My part of the bargain is to continually attempt to live up to that impossibly wonderful gift. The other pole is something a good priest-friend pointed out to a group of us, years ago, when we were younger priests and ambitious with regard to the impact OUR ministries would have on SHAPING the Church for future generations: He said, in a nutshell, that the moment we inherited the authority we now possess over and in the Church, it ceased to be about us and instead became a legacy that we were already passing on to the younger generations. Our job was not to control, but to hand on an institution that was for our effort perhaps a little healthier. The challenge? To understand that the Church, or really anything else in this life, was never really ours. Inheritance, no matter the sort or the magnitude, is only the thing that is continually passing through us from one to another.