Camels and Needles

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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 told his original followers they needed to be prepared 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 us to. 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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It Rolls Downhill

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Today’s readings (click to open in new window): 
Psalms 104; 149, Genesis 6:9-22, Hebrews 4:1-13, John 2:13-22


“Tourist prices” have been a problem for as long as people have traveled out of town. For example, non-Jewish currency was forbidden inside the temple at Jerusalem, so pilgrims needed to exchange it with money changers in the temple’s outer court before purchasing sacrificial animals. Doves, lambs, and other creatures are difficult to travel with, so livestock merchants also set up shop there. Both money changers and merchants took advantage of captive customers by demanding high prices. When Jesus arrived at the temple, he was so outraged to find “a den of thieves” where people traded faith for profit that he fashioned a whip out of cords and drove them all out. Not only had commerce defiled the temple, the institution that was supposed to protect the people was exploiting them.

The faithful are called to steward our resources justly. That means more than tithing and charity. Wealth does not buy us the privilege to shift social burdens onto the poor. In his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis describes how the poor are disproportionately affected by climate change and pollution. The wealthy consume resources and produce waste at a much greater rate than the poor, but poor communities are where we dump trash, manufacture toxins, and  ignore contamination. This burden shift occurs down the road and around the globe. Industries with environmentally devastating activities forbidden under national policies exploit poorer, unregulated countries. Many economic and social forces impact the differences between wealthy and poor communities, but property values are not Christian values. Living in a nice neighborhood doesn’t mean we deserve more justice. Faith calls us to deploy our resources in a way that protects the most vulnerable among us.

Are we in the outer court exchanging profit for justice, or are we working to make sure the poor – whom Jesus told us to serve – are at the heart of God’s kingdom? Rock bottom prices have high human costs. Pollutants we vote or litigate out of our back yards are forced into someone else’s. When the choices we make to better our lives negatively impact others, we need to make better choices. Maybe we can start by treating the poor as we would treat our own family … because Christ has made them so.

Comfort: Rich, poor, or in between, God’s justice is meant for all of us equally.

Challenge: Read about how the poor have been unfairly impacted by pollution in Ringwood, New Jersey (also known as Sludge City), Horlivka, Ukraine, or Flint, Michigan.

Prayer: Lord, help me to live justly, not just for my own righteousness, but for the love of your creation. Amen.  

Discussion: Where in your own community do you see links between poverty and injustice?

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Dear Jesus … Define Rich

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Obadiah 15-21, 1 Peter 2:1-10, Matthew 19:23-30


One of the favorite ornaments on our family Christmas tree is in the shape of a letter to Santa. Its message is short: “Dear Santa … Define good!”

“Good” is one of those terms which can seem eternally undefinable. Good compared to whom? When a rich young man asked Christ what good deed would guarantee him eternal life, Jesus replied, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”  After pressing Jesus on the matter, the young man left grief-stricken because Jesus told him to sell all his many possessions and give his money to the poor. When Jesus then told the 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 wondered if anyone could be saved. Jesus responded with a warning and reassurance that God made it possible.

“Rich” is another one of those words which seems to reside on a sliding scale. Most of us define “rich” in terms of wealth which definitely exceeds our own. How rich do we think the young man was? How many possessions is “many?” These concepts are skewed by the community and culture in which we live.

I consider my family to be solidly middle class, but compared to say the billions of people in the world without safe access to toilets, we are almost obscenely wealthy. During conversations about relative wealth, some friends and co-workers have suggested that it isn’t fair to compare first- and third-world standards. It’s almost as if they (and, I must admit, I) are reluctant to admit that in the overall scope of the human family, we are – as a fellow churchgoer described us in a way that was less than flattering – rich as $#!%. Of course to some other friends struggling to get by, that fellow churchgoer enjoyed a highly enviable level of comfort.

Since it’s all relative, the question then becomes not do we think we are rich, but does Jesus think we are rich? If we can consider his conversation with the young man to be an indicator of that standard, the threshold seems to be whether we retain anything we could part with to better follow him. We should probably be pretty aggressive about answering that.

Do we need to part with absolutely everything? Jesus didn’t require that of everyone around him. Do we need to be willing to part with anything that stands between us and Christ? Absolutely.

We may not be able to agree on a textbook definition of “rich” … but valuing something more than we value Christ is a price too high for any of us to pay.

Comfort: The most valuable thing we have was given to us for free.

Challenge: Consider donating to WaterAid or similar charities which help deliver clean water and facilities to people living in poverty.

Prayer: Merciful and loving  God, teach me to appreciate what I have in terms of how I might spend it to help others in need. Amen.

Discussion: In your opinion, how rich is too rich?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!