I came across a modern parable in my newspaper and thought you might be interested in it also. You know what a parable is, right? In the Bible you know that when he was teaching his disciples Jesus often spoke in parables, telling a story that makes a moral point. Here is a paraphrase of that newspaper article, perhaps as Jesus would have phrased it:
“There was once a man with two daughters, who was estranged from both of them. He was old and bitter and unhappy. Public health agencies withdrew their services because he was so abusive to caregivers. Eventually he died, and neither daughter attended his funeral.
“When the will was read, it was discovered that the older daughter was to inherit the entire estate. The younger daughter sued, saying her father had been prejudiced against her and she deserved a fair share; that her father’s attitude toward her should not be allowed to carry beyond the grave.”
I can see Jesus pausing here, looking at those seated around him and then asking: “What would you do? What does justice require?”
An Ontario judge recently overturned such a will because he felt offended public policy. The man’s younger daughter had had a child out of wedlock, fathered by a man of a different race. As a result she was disinherited. The will made no reference to race, but based on witness testimony the judge decided it was racist and nullified it.
Tomorrow I will comment on the legalities involved. Today I want to look at the story.
There are so many unanswered questions here. I wonder if the older sister will appeal? She has just lost half her inheritance; I wonder how she feels about the situation? The news report I read said she made no appearances in the proceedings. Does she share her father’s prejudices? If so will she contest the decision? And if she didn’t agree with the terms of the will, could she not have just given half her inheritance to her younger sibling? What would you have done if you were the older sister? Or the younger one?
There are also unanswered questions of motive. The father, condemned now by the courts as a racist, is not in a position to defend himself. By all accounts he was not a nice person. The daughter had her mixed race child more than a decade before the father died, and from that point on he had nothing to do with her or the child. The will, done three years before his death, made no mention of race, just left the estate to the eldest daughter.
I suppose, despite the judge’s ruling, it is possible that racial prejudice was not a significant factor in this case. Perhaps the father was more upset with the child being born out of wedlock. In some cultures that is a big issue, and the girl’s father was a clergyman, which might have had some bearing on his attitude (though I presume he missed the Bible passages about grace). There is so much of the story of these people that is not contained in a short newspaper report. (For the record, I feel the same way about some of the Biblical parables. I keep asking “what if?” and wishing that Jesus had made the stories just a little bit longer.)
Once again we are left with our earlier question: what does justice require? When we die, as eventually we all will, do we have the final say on the disposition of our worldly possessions? Is that say absolute? Or are there limits set by a common set of values, or by legislation?
The judge in this case made a decision to overturn the will. Tomorrow we will look at the law, but for today I’m interested more in the human reaction. What would you have done?