As a Christian, I hate talking about money.
I remember walking into a Roman Catholic church years ago. My girlfriend at the time was Catholic. And lucky us, the priest preached about giving to the congregation. We came back two weeks later and heard another sermon about giving money to the church. Not just a little. Two whole sermons about financial giving. I refused to go back.
Talking about money sucks. What’s worse is the vacuum left by not talking about it.
There are few topics Jesus covers as thoroughly and frequently as money. It’s both his subject and his literary device. He comments on our love of money and uses that love to comment on us.
One of the most challenging parables for us to hear is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.
A simple story of generosity and sharing in the fruits of God’s labor is heard in our Western ears exactly as it was intended: as scandalous and unfair.
- Its sense of God’s justice found in equal footing without regard to merit or responsibility strikes us as short-sighted.
- Our need to “teach a man to fish” without distributing fishing poles leaves a stream full of fish and bunch of people hungry.
- And we just can’t bring ourselves to see justice in equal sufficiency.
One of the most formative stories in scripture for me is Exodus 15-17. The people are wandering in the desert after their liberation from Egypt. They were freed through the power and miraculous intervention of God. But all isn’t happiness.
Three times, the people grumble and start to get mutinous. They’re having their parking lot conversations about Moses’s leadership. Arguing that slavery in Egypt was better than this because at least they had food. They stop short of calling God a jerk, only so they can keep Moses as their scapegoat.
- They grumble about being thirsty because all they can find is gross swamp water. Moses talks to God and God provides them with sweet water.
- Then they’re hungry. So Moses talks to God and God provides them with food.
- Then they’re thirsty again. And looking to kill Moses over it. So Moses talks to God and God provides water again.
It is a wonderfully human story of ignorance, brutality, and confusion in the midst of fear. Every time I read it, I hear our present condition.
Especially when we focus on chapter 16.
Here, in the story of their hunger, God provides Manna in the morning and meat in the evening.
But the story isn’t just about God providing for the grumpy people who complain about their condition. God provides them enough. Not a minimal amount to sustain them. Not a token which all can have a taste equally.
And not abundance, where there’s food for storing and saving and hording for later. Enough.
So they eat their fill in the morning. And they eat their fill in the evening. And everyone is satisfied. No one is hungry.
This seems to be formative for Jesus’s ministry, too.
The Pious Young Man
Money teachings are everywhere. From the subversive Parable of the Talents, Prodigal Sons, to the Dishonest Manager. But one of the most iconic and revealing examples of Jesus’s attitude toward money is his interaction with a powerful young man.
Often referred to as the Rich Young Man, or in Luke as the Rich Young Ruler, these stories deal with more than the money. They deal with piety and how they treat other people.
You remember the story of a young man coming to Jesus and extolling all the ways he does right by God; how he is doing all the right things.
And Jesus takes it all in and tells him that there is one thing he has yet to do: sell his stuff, give the money to the poor, and follow him.
Which causes him to run away, crying for, as Matthew describes it “he had many possessions.”
It is hard not to see this moment as revealing Jesus as the first minimalist. Get rid of all the possessions you own because they own you! And there’s real truth to that.
As we read in Luke 16, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Which highlights what Jesus was actually telling the young man. That it isn’t just checking boxes. You don’t get to inherit vibrant living just because you mastered the standardized test. God isn’t going to give you a gold star because you shoved all your devotion into the first two decades so you can coast the rest of the way.
It isn’t about the stuff or having the right beliefs or being the right person.
Are you following Jesus? Unencumbered? Without the compromising elements? The things that make you want to give different wages? Do you hear Jesus’s parable about a horrible master throwing his slave into the outer darkness and say “if he’d only exploited his neighbors…”?
Money isn’t evil or a blessing.
Is money good or bad?
Money may be the root of evil, but it isn’t the evil. And it may be the fruit of the spirit, but it sure isn’t a blessing. I gave you a false choice.
Money is our tool of discrimination and an excuse to condemn. It is our means of preventing the Kin-dom and exploiting our neighbor. And we eagerly take these differences and we call ourselves blessed.
We also can see money as our tool for evangelism and growth. It helps us bring in speakers from whom we learn and give to the hungry and homeless in our communities. It keeps the lights on in our buildings and allows priests and pastors to serve our communities.
And we often take these as opportunities to judge and withhold, injuring ourselves and debasing our neighbors.
We struggle with money because when we value it, we devalue God and our neighbor.
When we tie our sense of devotion to it, we devalue our faith.
If we make money our evaluation tool, we devalue our humanity.
Money, as our focus and our faith, is an idol.
We know this well in our churches. We condemn those mega-church prosperity pastors as swindlers. And give generously each week to support our community of faith.
But in our lives? How many of our decisions are based on economics? Based on cost and efficiency? On how much it’s going to cost versus how effective we are being with our resources?
How much of our judgment goes to the poor for their poverty and wealthy for their extravagance? How much power do we invest in money?
And how much are we willing to defend exploitation, pretending it’s Jesus’s true message?
Money is only a tool. The choice is whether we make it a tool for Kin-dom building or exploitation.
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This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!