Dealing with Wealth

Luke12v13to21_2013Money.

Some call it the root of all evil, parroting the bible verse. Some see it as the means to accomplish great things of value to all mankind. There is every position in between.

The first reading today from Ecclesiastes is the dilemma I often see for the atheist. Life is harsh. Life is all about working. And in the end, it is all for naught. One ends up leaving their property to people who don’t deserve it. What is the point? The writer of Ecclesiastes seems like someone in deep depression.

Paul, in Colossians points out that greed is one of those nasty “earthly” evils that we must turn from in our quest to live in the heavenly realm.

And Jesus reminds us that greed leads us to focus on that which at a moments notice can be taken from us. For it will do us no good in the end.

As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you.

So how do we relate to wealth?

Jesus points to the answer surely in suggesting that hoarding wealth will not serve us at all. Yet much of what we do is just that. We think it’s good business to plow back profits “into the business”, growing it even larger. We are all concerned with the “bottom line”. We want to read our balance sheets as improving each and every year. We want that bank balance to grow.

Not all of this is bad of course. As much as we do know that our lives can be forfeit mere moments from now, we are obligated as good citizens and good family members to take care of ourselves in our older years. We invest, save, and plan for the days when we are not going to earn a salary any more.

Yet how much is too much?

Jesus’ parable is not just to suggest that greed is bad. He also speaks to what we do with our money. The rich farmer, rather than save up his grain to enhance his own wealth and perchance sell it at exorbitant rates in lean years?, should, after providing for the lean, offer the rest to those less fortunate.

Spread the wealth. Jesus asks, if something happens to you tonight, to whom will your wealth belong? A good question that takes us back to Qoheleth who moans that it will end up going to those who have not worked for it.

A ran into an interesting quote from Bill Gates, Sr., from something he wrote in Sojourners Magazine:

Society’s claim on individual accumulated wealth is … rooted in the recognition of society’s direct and indirect investment in the individual’s success. In other words, we didn’t get there on our own” (Jan-Feb, 2003)

In other words, it is the height of arrogance to make the claim that “I’m a rugged individual” and “I got where I am by hard work.” Surely these things may be true but they are hardly the entire story. People have died for your ability to set up a business and operate it in a manner that brings individual wealth. People have paid taxes so that you could enjoy free schooling. People have toiled in your factories because of their own pride in a job done well. People have protected your inventory because others raised them to be honest and fair.

Nobody gets there on their own.

Another point Jesus seems to make is that the uncertainty of our future should lead us to another thought.

We often put off charitable efforts until we “have more time.” We put off our families because the business needs our full attention. How many marriages suffer from the parent or parents who are too busy to get home for dinner or attend the soccer game? How many of us are too tired on Sunday to get dressed and attend our church? How many say we will get to mediation, that spiritual book, soon but just not now when we are so busy with LIFE?

What excuse will we use when the time comes and we may be asked to explain why we couldn’t be there for a friend in need, or spend that time in prayer? Will we say, “Gosh Lord, here are the numbers of my accounts. The money is all yours!”

The vanity is not the work. The vanity is not the desire for a nice home or a comfortable retirement.

The vanity is losing sight of all that is just as important, and that is not something to be put off until tomorrow, because that is a profound vanity. The vanity of thinking that we are in control. If we can see that God is in control, then we can order our lives accordingly.  We can prioritize more effectively when we step aside and get out of the way of our egos and recognize who is our guide and boss.

Wealth, work, and planning then fall into perspective. They are service to the kingdom, and nothing more. We work and accumulate to achieve much greater goods than our own small visions. We position ourselves to be of service in whatever manner is presented to us by a loving God.

Amen.

 

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aliceny
    Aug 04, 2013 @ 11:18:19

    Very surprised by Bill Gates’ quote. I liked it.
    Thanks, Sherry, for your thoughts on today’s readings.

    Reply

  2. Tim
    Aug 07, 2013 @ 09:00:45

    Loved the quote, too. It gets the heart of the matter you raise here. It’s also why the term “independently wealthy” tickles me. That’s an impossibility! Our pastor suggested we read through the rest of Luke’s chapter, beyond the parable with its be rich toward God” moral/conundrum. (How do we that?) As Jesus moves on, into the “consider the lilies” part of the text, He answers a whole lot of our questions by reminding us to consider the Source. All that we have, regardless of quantity or quality, comes to us by God’s grace. Random though it sometimes seems–as in why are they so prosperous and I’m not?–there is a divine logic at work, a reasoning that defies our understanding.

    My own discomfort in discussing or pondering wealth is, like so many, rooted in guilt over my situation versus those who are not as well off. How is it that I’m able to have and do all that I enjoy and they’re not as “blessed”? (Loathe that usage, BTW.) And I’m reminded that my financial status, which doesn’t even qualify as modest in many eyes but looks ridiculously rich in others, is a transitory thing. It no more defines me than poverty or wealth at their extremes define those burdened with them.

    “To be rich toward God,” I believe, is to recognize God is at work in every aspect of our lives, providing for us when times are good and standing beside us when times are bad. And that’s got to be the richest thing in life!!

    Tough subject, Sherry–one that many work overtime to avoid–and you’ve done a splendid job of helping us think it through!

    Much love and gratitude,
    t

    Reply

  3. Sherry
    Aug 07, 2013 @ 16:43:32

    Wealth remains a tough subject as you say, for the reason that most of us are well enough off that we wonder are we not doing enough for others. It’s a horrid dilemma to me. I am left with something I read yesterday that has touched me profoundly: “Become what you behold” speaking of Jesus. As I gaze at the Master, my greatest yearning is to become Him. It has stayed with me, and has acted as a foil to all my baser instincts that I come to each day. As each person pushes my buttons, I returned to simply thanking God that I was here able to be of service, and to let go of the occasioned slight I was experiencing from a store clerk or whomever. It seemed to have a good effect! lol…
    Love and peace to you my friend.
    Sherry

    Reply

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