Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mo Money, Mo Problems

“How much is too much?”, is the traditional wording of paltry middle class piety. The fact that Jesus failed to mention the secret income cap (with a conversion chart next to weights and measures in the index) has rendered most everything he and his disciples said about money impotent. Without a clear, codified dollar amount looming over our climb up the economic ladder, we are free to revel in our wealth under the guise that none of us are rich.

The problem with our parade is that it sorely misunderstands what the market and the Scriptures teach about money – namely, that it can be amassed in a vacuum. Perhaps the reason for Jesus’ great omission is that he could not conceive (literally) of a world in which us and our things were not intertwined with God and humanity and the earth. To ask how much is too much is to pit money against itself, abstracted from the world we live in. But to ask how we might worship with what we have is to invite the concrete reality of God and the poor into our dialogue.

That is the conversation the Bible takes up. John’s radically impractical legalistic words about two tunics and extra food envisions a world in which some people have neither (Lk 3:11). Jesus’ Messianic signposts of good news, sight, and liberty were not for arbitrary audiences as if he could have divided his time between Wall Street and Water Street. Nor were his miracles arbitrary magic tricks as if pulling rabbits from his kippah would have done just as well. No, they were integral to his God-given mission (Lk 4:18-20; 7:20-23). Comparing the rich young man’s sorrow to Zacchaeus’ joy reveals the rightful place of possessions between us and the Lord (Lk 18:23; 19:6). Surprisingly Jesus does not say, “where your heart is, there your treasure will be also”, but the reverse. Once we have our treasure in the right place our hearts will follow (Lk 12:34).

Community thinking, vertically and horizontally, on wealth is desperately needed if we are to gain any clarity at all. Things are not passive objects that fill our homes, but threatening thorns (Lk 8:14), treasure traps (12:21), an alternative to the kingdom (12:31), an alternative to the Master (16:13), a respite from worship (12:34) – in short, they pit us against God. Generosity is not another personal spiritual discipline that needs work but the names and faces of those around my table (14:13-14). It is not the aimless simplifying of my home so faddish today but the sacrificial supplying of the destitute (12:33). It is not asking with the lawyer “Who is my neighbor?”, but with Jesus “Who proved to be a neighbor?” (10:29, 36).

There is nothing wrong with money in and of itself but there is no such thing as money in and of itself.


Paul-David Young said...

Excellent post. I think the last sentence is good enough for a book title... That guy from willow creek always had book titles like that so you could probably get away with it...

What do you mean about the Jesus did not say "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also", (matthew 6:2M) is that a typo? Are you getting at our misunderstanding/misapplication of that verse?

david said...

You would expect Jesus to say get your heart in the right place and then what you do with your treasure will fall in line. Surprisingly, he says the reverse. Get your treasure in the right place and then your heart will fall in line. This is demonstrated in his pronouncement of Zacchaeus' faith when without any coherent christology he simply resolves what to do with his money (Lk 19:8-9).

All the Luke references are paving the way for a future post: Luke the Liberationist.

Paul-David Young said...

well said David. I think that the phrase "the bible never condemns money" is as cliche, theologically helpful, and deep as "my boss is a Jewish carpenter".

I was reading in Jeremiah Burroughs where he reminds us that no one in Scripture ever came out of the trial of poverty farther away from the God, the same cannot be said about wealth. I think you can say what you want about Shane Claiborn and the like, but I do believe that the Church of 'rest of the world' will judge us, hopefully before it is too late.

Christina Ottis said...

The issue of money and "how much is too much" has been in my face since I moved overseas. Every Western worker has a different view on what standard of living is acceptable. The biggest problem I've found is that most people would encourage me to move into a nicer, more Westernized area to be more comfortable and "safe." My flesh wants the comfort, but my spirit wishes that the Ch. would hold me to a higher standard of sacrifice. I really, really wish God would just draw a line and tell me how much is too much, but instead, he gives us His Spirit. It is interesting that in the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 it is "the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth" that "choke the Word and it becomes unfruitful."