Mark 4:18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.
I Timothy 6: 17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.
James 5:1 Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. 2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. 3 Your gold and silver have become worthless. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This treasure you have accumulated will stand as evidence against you on the day of judgment. 4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.
5 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter.6 You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you.
The word for wealth/money in Mark 4, I Timothy 6 and James 5 is the same word. I’m sure everyone knows that wealth itself is not a matter of different things, but of different decisions, different goals, different choices, different appetites nurtured and so on.
Money is money. Americans have it. Starving Christians in the global south have it. Corporations have it. Churches have it. You and I have it.
I live in one of the poorest counties/congressional districts in the United States. I drive past disgusting examples of poverty every time I travel. And, of course, many of these scenes are poignantly furnished with irony. Outside of a trailer with no doors and sheet plastic windows will be 2 or 3 all-terrain vehicles and a satellite dish. Inside, a large flat-screen television and video games will be prominently displayed.
It’s a decision about what to do with something that can be good or bad. The wealth is neutral. It could buy clothes or a door or windows. It could buy gas to a job. It doesn’t.
Jesus and the Apostles made it plain that wealth can be a worry. It can also be a means of blessing and helping others. Or it can be a curse, filling the world with pain and oppression.
The ministry where I serve spends a lot of time teaching students to not waste food, water and other resources. Every day I eat in our dining hall, I see amazing examples of food waste by young people who just haven’t yet learned how to think about these things. They have the opportunity to put food on a plate and they do so as an expression of their freedom. Then I meet them at the window where we take our trays and silverware, and there is all the food going into the trash.
“I didn’t want it.” I’ve heard it a thousand times.
But before you are shocked, ask yourself if you have learned to think about money and resources like Jesus.
I’m not asking you to become an economist. I’m just asking if you and I have come far enough down the road of thinking like Jesus that we’re seeing the possibilities and the tragedies of how we use money and wealth.
The ministry where I work is the third least expensive school if its kind in the U.S. (as far as we know.) Even then, we give a substantial amount of need based financial aid to our students.
One thing you can be sure of: Among those requesting financial aid for our already inexpensive ministry will be someone who will actually write something like this:
With the economic downturn, times are very difficult for us. With two house payments, three car payments and our credit cards maxed out, we need as much assistance as possible. In fact, we may have to cancel a family vacation to Aspen this year if my husband’s practice doesn’t pick up.
This is a way of thinking. It’s a way of seeing ourselves that ignores connections and makes assumptions about “normal” that need to be deeply challenged.
Following Jesus is a process of personal transformation. It isn’t a process of becoming like other Christians. It is a process of becoming like Christ. The unmistakable evidence of the New Testament and Christian history is that Christians and their communities became aware of the meaning of economic power and possibility. Among the behaviors they valued the most in discerning faithfulness to Jesus was whether you could SEE the poor and how to minister to them in a Jesus-shaped, responsible way.
When Zacheus met Jesus. He didn’t become a beggar. He remained a tax collector as far as we know. What he became was tax collector who used his money and influence differently. Maybe it cost him his job. I don’t know. Interestingly, the deepest connection he made was that Jesus was a far more satisfying and security-producing master than his wealth.
So how easily can you let go of it? How much do you want to understand about how you use wealth? Are you prepared to undertake the journey to using your wealth in different way?
Start small. What is a $20 change you could make this month – $5 a week- toward being economically a follower of Jesus?