Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wealth and Worth

But how terrible for you who are rich, because you have already received your comfort. How terrible for you who have plenty now, because you will be hungry.  
                                                                                                                Luke 6:24-25a

Recently I was part of a group studying Luke 6:17-31. When we got to the verses above, the discussion grew tense, pointed and critical. Like a hot spotlight, the group quickly moved the conversation from the recognition that we are the ones who have plenty and that Jesus’ comments might therefore be directed toward us. Instead the spotlight’s heat was focused on a more comfortable target—the poor—as some questioned who deserves our charity and how much charity is adequate.

When we equate wealth to worth, we pervert the message and example of Jesus. When we make ourselves the judges of who is worthy to receive our help, our arrogance is apparent. And when we believe that material wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, we make a mockery of the life of Jesus, who had no place to lay his head. (Luke 9:58).

It is a hard task to hold wealth with detachment, humility and faith. We cling to it, putting our trust in it to save us and we look to it to gauge our self-worth. The difficulty of having wealth and giving oneself in devotion to Christ is why Jesus said “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)

You cannot serve God and wealth. But we don’t really believe that, as evidenced from the way many of us live, anxious about our assets and questioning whether and how much to give to others. That is why when passages such as the one from Luke are studied, people get tense and critical. We want to justify our lifestyle choices and try to make them fit with Jesus’ teachings, much in the way we might try to fit into clothing too small for us. Instead of justifying ourselves, it is better to acknowledge our need to be changed and to pray for a heart that desires to be changed. A glad and generous heart gives out of love for Christ, recognizing that all are made worthy by Jesus’ death on the cross, not by the balance in one’s bank account.  Holding wealth with detachment means we give without expectation, we give because love compels us to give, and we trust God with the outcome of our giving.

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