Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Who Owns the World?

In his historical novel, Lincoln, Gore Vidal has one of the President's secretaries ask him why he tells stories so often in answer to questions. President Lincoln replies: "When there is so much you cannot say, it is always a good idea to have a story ready...and in my predicament it is a good thing to know all sorts of stories because the truth of the whole matter is now almost unsayable...". Lincoln used stories to communicate and, sometimes, to obfuscate, depending on the situation. He was a master story-teller.

Jesus often used stories to answer questions that were larger than life. Those stories were called ‘parables.' He frequently told parables about stewards and stewardship. Stewards took care of property that was not their own. A good steward, however, treated the property with great care; perhaps with even greater care than if it were his own. Jesus cautioned his hearers about making rash assumptions about ownership. Truth is we do not own anything permanently. Eventually everything we have will pass into the hands of others. This is an understanding of reality that is often foreign to people until they come to the end of their lives and abruptly discover they cannot take their accumulated assets with them. We leave this world as we entered it, empty-handed. This is a sobering thought to any who build their lives around material possessions.

The basic human question, "Who Owns the World?" is too large for mere words, so in the tradition of Jesus' parables, let me tell you a story to help with the answer.

While probating a will, a New York law firm discovered a piece of property in Louisiana. They engaged the service of a New Orleans attorney to do a title search on the property. A few weeks later the attorney submitted a title opinion that traced ownership of the property back to 1803. Concerned they might have a problem with this title opinion, they asked the attorney to trace ownership of said property back beyond 1803. Several days later, they received the following letter:

"Dear Sirs:

Please be advised that in the year of 1803 the United States of America acquired the territory of Louisiana from the Republic of France by purchase; which the Republic of France had, in turn, acquired from the Spanish Crown by conquest; the Spanish Crown having obtained the same by virtue of the discovery of one Christopher Columbus, a Genoese sailor, who had been authorized to embark by Isabella, the Queen of Spain, who had obtained the sanction of the Pope, the Vicar of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son and Heir of Almighty God, who made Louisiana."

There are some stories that say so much that any commentary diminishes the message. This is one of them.

Think about it.....Who owns the world?