Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, Numbers 16:20-35, Romans 4:1-12, Matthew 19:23-30
Few of Jesus’s teachings conflict more with our desires than his teachings about money. When he told his disciples “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” they were flummoxed, and asked who then could be saved. Jesus assured them all things are possible through God, so if the simple fact of possessing wealth does not disqualify us from salvation, what’s the problem with being rich?
Wealth is not just a privilege, it is a burden. We are reluctant to part with it, and spend many resources maintaining and growing it. Few of us, unless forced, intentionally downsize our homes, cars, or lifestyles – yet that is exactly what Jesus called his original followers to do. People of a certain age and temperament will refer to youth as naive and idealistic; while this may be somewhat true, it’s not just our bodies that grow inflexible with age. Once we have something to lose, taking chances becomes far less attractive. Our four-bedroom condos and five-figure bank accounts are not problems – unless we are unwilling to part with them when Christ calls. Social justice movements are almost always spearheaded by the young, poor, disenfranchised, or monastic … who have nothing to lose.
Some people, especially prosperity preachers, have tried to explain away the camel and needle in order to feel more comfortable about holding wealth, but comfort is a step toward apathy. At the very least, we need to be prayerfully wrestling with the tension between the “practical” approach toward life, and the reckless generosity to which Christ calls us.
Wealth buys access, but it also builds walls. We work hard to live in “good” neighborhoods, but Christ demonstrated a clear affinity for the poor of spirit and pocket. Time and again he told the disciples “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” If in our comfortable lives our relationship with the poor becomes one of charity but not kinship, our place in line will be very far back indeed.
Comfort: Your wealth is not a sign of your success.
Challenge: We tend to think of the “wealthy” as people who have more than us. If you have a roof, a full belly, and a dollar … you are wealthy to somebody. Meditate on what Christ might want you to do with what you have.
Prayer: God of generosity, help me to remember that wealth is not the ability to acquire, but the ability to give away. Help me be a worthy steward of all you have entrusted to me. Amen.
Discussion: When faced with global poverty, it’s tempting to claim wealth is always relative in order to feel less guilty about what we have, and to feel less helpless about what others don’t. In what moments, if any, have you realized a desire to maintain a certain standard of living conflicts with your faith?
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