“It’s my money. I earned it and I’ll enjoy it.” That’s my paraphrase of the words of a man who had a great crop in a parable Jesus told. The rest of his story was about the unexpected quick end of that man’s life. The parable ends with this- “Then who will get everything you worked for?” (Luke 12)
Jesus’ words about how we understand wealth are hard for us to understand in our modern economy formed around making a profit. Our companies respond to consumers. Advertisers create a sense of ‘need’ in us, we choose to spend our money in certain ways, and companies respond with products we want, priced to gain our business. That is an over-simplified model of course for there are many other factors; regulation, global needs, labor costs – to name a few.
Most of us live in this system assuming ‘that is just the way the world works.’
Woven through the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, there are themes that challenge our basic assumptions about accumulating wealth. Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. God does not condemn wealth. In fact it is seen in the Bible as one sign of God’s blessings and something for which we give thanks. However, the wisdom of God constantly reminds us of two radical ideas.
- First we are told that our wealth cannot become our god, that from which we take meaning in life or trust for our security.
- Second we learn that those who have gained wealth have a responsibility to actively care for the poor, to use the influence that comes with their money to provide for those with less, to support just systems that respect everyone.
When we become Jesus’ followers, claiming His Name, He invites us to die to Self and that includes the basic selfishness of our economic system that is built around gaining profit. Whoa! I heard your reaction. “Jerry, are you saying that producing anything to make a profit is sinful?” Not at all. A reasonable profit that allows a tradesman, a craftsman, a professional, or a corporation to accumulate ‘capital’ to continue to do business is quite in line with the Bible’s approval of diligence and hard work.
But when our economic system is shaped in a way that a few can benefit at the expense of the rest, it is a matter of concern to our Lord and should be for us as well. This is not just political, this involves the spiritual work of the Church. For me it is nearly unthinkable to believe that our corrupt and self-serving political parties in America should be or could be trusted to redistribute wealth. But, that does not relieve me of personal care for others or for evaluating my own use of resources, if I intend to be a faithful servant of Christ.
James, pastor of the first gathering of Christians in Jerusalem, was brutal in his condemnation of those who had no concern for people in need, who were quick to take advantage of a poorer person. Read his inspired words slowly. They are disturbing (at least to me) when placed against the current economics values of our nation.
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” (James 5:1-6, NIV)
How much is too much? The question is one that all serious Christians will ask. It is a terrible mistake to think that God’s economics are only written for those who make more than $150,000 a year, or who drive a certain kind of car, or who live in a house that is larger than the one we live in! Little or much, we are all accountable to God.
The word from the Word today invites our reflection. May He find us faithful in our response of obedience.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:10-13, NIV)
Abba, I thank you for the privilege given me to live
in a time and place where there is wealth and opportunity.
Forgive me when I begin to think that I am somehow better than
those who lack these things and therefore without responsibility for them.
Help me to trust You, not my money, for security;
to see that which I own more honesty as that which
You allow me to manage.
My prayer, Father, is that when I come home
You will be able to say, “I love what you did with My stuff.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen