In our society, where it’s believed that everyone has the opportunity to succeed and enjoy an affluent lifestyle, we tend to make Thanksgiving about privileges we enjoy: adequate income, comfortable housing, personal possessions, a secure financial future. This year I’m asking God to help me to say “Thanks, but no thanks” to all of that. This is because I’ve been watching two current TV series: the epic drama Yellowstone and the historical documentary The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty.
What do these two programs have in common? They both revolve around a strong male figure fighting to hold on to his family fortune and pass it on to his children. In Yellowstone rough-and-tumble old-school cowboy John Dutton (played by Kevin Kostner) is battling frantically to protect and preserve the vast Montana ranch that has been handed down through six generations of Duttons. In The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, powerful financier Rupert Murdoch (played by himself) has clawed his way to the top of the news/entertainment industry to control numerous media companies, including NewsCorp and Fox News, and now in older age struggles to hold onto these assets. Ironically, each of these macho power brokers will soon be turning his legacy over to his adult children, none of whom seems to have the character or skills to hold onto it. As if the authors of these two series were following the same script, each family’s rival siblings consist of one woman and two men (Beth, Kayce and Jamie Dutton; Elizabeth, Lachlan and James Murdoch*).
So, would I like to be able to make Thursday’s holiday about being thankful for abundant riches, the way John Dutton and Rupert Murdoch might? Thanks, but no thanks! The cost of being rich seems too high to me: feeling that you have to live up to a legendary high standard set by the ancestors who created the family fortune; having to witness jealousy and power struggles among your children and other potential heirs of your estate; feeling responsible if your inherited wealth is diminished or squandered during your generation of stewardship. I’ll leave all of that to Rupert and John.
Actually, the script behind these two TV dramas is pretty ancient. Jesus used it for one of his most memorable parables:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 22:13-21) **
I guess one of my prayers this Thursday should be “Thank you, Lord, that you have not allowed me to have ‘ample goods laid up for many years.’ I’d have probably made as pathetic a mess of it as John and Rupert did. Thanks, but no thanks!
— Pastor George Van Alstine
* Older sister Prudence isn’t featured in the series, since she is “the only one of his children not directly competing for his business affections” (Wikipedia)
** I was sharing these thoughts with my wife Judy, and I said, “It’s too bad there are just two sons in Jesus’ parable fighting over the inheritance, and there’s no daughter as in the Dutton and Murdoch families.” She said, “Maybe there was, but women didn’t have a share of the inheritance in that culture.” Good point.