Posts Tagged ‘wealth’

MARK 12:38-44

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

We must be careful not to read a condemnation against the rich into Jesus’ observations by the temple treasury. Nowhere does he condemn wealth or prosperity, not does he anywhere say that rich people cannot enter the kingdom of God. What he does say is that it is very difficult, next to impossible, for a wealthy person to sufficiently detach from the comforts, habits, and values that cohere and soak into his or her sense of identity.

Just as it was impossible for a loaded camel to enter the city of Jerusalem by a gate known as “The Eye of the Needle,” it is likewise impossible for a rich person who has deeply identified with their wealth, along with the lifestyle and worldview it affords, to enter the kingdom of universal compassion and cross-bearing social justice.

What did Jesus see, as he watched the line filing past the treasury box? He saw wealthy people dropping in their offerings, giving to God a percentage of their incomes. The practice was the same back then as it is still today: middle-class church members bringing to God what is left, after the bills have been paid, some spending money set aside, and the pantry stocked for the month. It may not amount to ten percent of their net income (the requested tithe), but what can you expect? You’ve got to live, right? All these things are necessities, don’t you know, and there is just no possible way to put more in the box than what you have in hand at the end of the month. There isn’t (necessarily) any deception going on here; just simple mathematics.

JAMES 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

“Money talks,” the old adage goes. It doesn’t very often tell the truth, perhaps, but it holds a persuasive power that can be nearly impossible to resist. Just as today, the church in Jerusalem had tended to tilt in favor of the wealthy over the poor, giving them best seats in the house and more volume to their preferences and complaints. Even back then, ministry was supported through congregational stewardship, and the biggest givers frequently got the largest votes.

Thankfully, behind church politics and denominational greed there is the charter document of the Gospel, which tells the story of Jesus whose words on the accumulation of wealth and the societal division between the rich and the poor are anything but sympathetic to our temptations toward money. Jesus consistently came down on the side of the poor against those whose lifestyles, social prejudices, and religious self-justifications perpetrated abuse and neglect on the backs of the disadvantaged majority.

Since those with money often put forward the capital investment to fund the church’s mission to the poor and others in need, it is sometimes (mistakenly) believed that the investors are more important to her ministry than the beneficiaries. Which brings up another question: As church property and the technology of ministry become increasingly expensive and elaborate, what becomes of our responsibility for the humble poor?

1 KINGS 2:10-12; 3:3-14

10 Then David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David. 11 And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was firmly established.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father; only, he sacrificed and burnt incense at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings upon that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “Thou hast shown great and steadfast love to thy servant David my father, because he walked before thee in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward thee; and thou hast kept for him this great and steadfast love, and hast given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.And thy servant is in the midst of thy people whom thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered or counted for multitude. Give thy servant therefore an understanding mind to govern thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to govern this thy great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”

Talk about hitting the jackpot! The young King Solomon asked only for wisdom, and was granted wealth, honor, and the prospect of a long life as well. Solomon’s name is derived from the root-word meaning “peace,” and his reign from the throne of Israel was indeed the most peaceful on record. This particular version of the “Three Wishes” that is common in the folk traditions of world cultures is intended to help the reader, and not just Solomon, sift through our mixture of urges and desires for that one thing (or three) we hold in the highest priority.

In most all of the stories the world round, wisdom does in fact top the list, with honor next in descending order, followed by wealth and personal gain, with pleasure at the bottom. There is obvious wisdom in such a hierarchy of life aims, and so it’s perfectly understandable that wisdom itself should be the highest of them all.

We would do well to pause for a moment and consider what our personal hierarchy of life aims would be, or is. Is our value system centered on hedonism, or the experience of pleasure? Or is it centered on capitalism and the accumulation of wealth? Perhaps our values turn around a life focused on moral achievement and social acclaim, what we might name heroism. Finally (staying with the list of four) do our aims in life orient around a deeper wisdom of how our lives fit within the greater whole?

Hedonism, capitalism, heroism, and holism: where are you?

LUKE 1:47-55

47 My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Earlier, Isaiah had energized this living vision of the New Reality by anticipating its future advent among his people. His metaphor of a time and place when final justice would be accomplished, death sponged away, and every grief replaced by joy, helped him and his community transcend their present troubles in order to tap into a higher source of wisdom, hope, and strength.

This hymn of Mary, named the Magnificat for its first word in the Greek text, can help us regain an appreciation and respect for the visionary language of religion. Luke portrays the mother of Jesus in the moment of her convictional experience, when she realizes that the New Reality is breaking into the world of conflict across the threshold of her own life.

Of course, had Mary looked around herself at that moment she would have noticed no significant changes in the actual arrangements of outer reality. The powerful were still on their thrones, and the lowly were still struggling under the afflictions of hunger and oppression. So was it all just fantasy? Was Mary merely reveling in wishful thinking?

For her, the radical transformation that would one day manifest in revolutionary changes to the temporal world of religion, politics, and economics was already coming to pass within her – a new possibility, a new perception, and with it a new fulcrum for world change. Mary’s openness to mystery, and her emptiness of any compulsive need to control the deeper unfolding of her life, served as the birthplace of the New Reality.

Dispatch Two

Posted: December 22, 2013 in First Bundle
Tags: , , , , , ,

PSALM 72:1-7, 18-19

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
    like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
    and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

It may be that David’s humble origins as a sheep herder and the youngest of eight sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite had made him sympathetic towards people of the lower classes. Their culture of hard labor, long days, and heavy taxes – the revenue for top-heavy imperial administrations was typically extracted from the peasant and artisan classes – made life for them nasty, brutish, and short.

As a matter of moral integrity, and out of honor for the memory of his former life, David worked diligently to represent the needs and ambitions of the poor in his policies as king. He knew there could be no prosperity in the land so long as the larger percentage of the people were shouldering the burden for the happiness of the small wealthy upper class.

Which all begs the question: How can wealth and power be more equitably distributed, unless it is taken from the rulers and capitalists by force and given to the underprivileged?

Whereas Jesus would later advocate an alternative program to the coercive measures of deposition and confiscation of property, his principle of human compassion and self-sacrifice in the interest of a more broad-based happiness for all was still only in its early conception phase.

That the wealthy and powerful might come to apprehend their shared identity with the poor and oppressed, to the extent that they measure their own success as human beings by their ability to elevate the quality of life for everyone, is a high ideal for any society, however ‘enlightened’.