“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.