There is a story about catching monkeys using a coconut. Heard it? A hole is cut in the side of the coconut which is then hollowed out. Food is placed inside and the coconut is then left where a monkey can explore it. Finding food inside, the monkey inserts a hand, grabs hold making a fist, which prevents the animal from pulling its hand from the coconut. I do not know about monkeys, but I know many people who hang onto things so tightly that they become enslaved to them! We do like to own ‘stuff,’ don’t we? In all honesty, I enjoy my comfortable home, a warm shower in the morning, and the conveniences that make life easier. It is not my intent to praise poverty.
Here is the challenge – how can we own things without becoming trapped by them?
Will we recognize when we are loving our stuff more than our God?
Will we allow sin to take us captive while we hang onto the things we have come to love too much?
Think deeply about this story about Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man. “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’ ”
“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:17-23, NLT) The main lesson here is not universal poverty! Jesus is not telling all of us to sell all of our possessions. This young man, though very moral, had a core issue with how he defined himself. He thought his life was defined by what he owned, so he needed a radical cure. In order to find God, he had to lose it all. For some of us, that may be the case, too.
Wealth makes it possible for us to control much of how we live. Very few of us really grasp what Jesus meant when He taught us to pray, “Give us our daily bread!” We have frigs and freezers full of food and jobs that provide a regular flow of income. And, there is nothing bad about that if we know that our ultimate supply comes from the Lord. But, when we begin to be anxious about the future, when we look at our car, home, clothes, or job and believe that those things make us who we are – there is a real spiritual problem.
Jesus confronts our American ideals. “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” (Luke 12:15) A fire burned rapidly through much of a California town yesterday. I watched so many residents on camera who were stunned, all that they had, lost in a few moments. One man stood in front of what had been a warehouse full of collectible items, irreplaceable things. Now he looked at a ruin, piles of ashes. But, he was still who he was before his things were lost. Yes, of course, there is sadness about those things, but he can still love and laugh and worship. But, many of those people, confusing having things with having life, will go through major times of crisis and even depression.
Want to stay free of the coconut’s trap? Practice the spiritual discipline of generosity. No, you don’t earn points with God by giving a buck to beggar! That is not the point. You learn to put what is in your care in the right place. Make a first line choice to give, generously, regularly, and from the first, not the last, part of what you have. For my entire adult life I have made tithing (giving 10% of my income) a regular practice. In times of little this remained my choice. Why? Because writing a check to my church (for the work of God), giving to missions, supporting charitable endeavors, is a practical way to wean myself from undue attachment to the stuff of life. There is joy in giving and blessings received from the Lord of it all – not just in larger stores, but in spiritual health. Make that choice and learn to live fully!
Jesus told a teaching story that we need to process and internalize. It may be familiar to you, but read it again, prayerfully. Here is a word from the Word.
“The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’ “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’
“That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.” He continued this subject with his disciples. “Don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more. ” (Luke 12:16-24, The Message)