Thursday, February 24, 2011

Timely Lectionary Gospel Lesson: God And Money

Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
 This is the gospel message for this Sunday's lectionary. I had no idea, prior to today, and yet this passage has been on my mind a lot recently. As someone who struggles with anxiety--worrying even when there is nothing to worry about--I remind myself often that Jesus instructs us not to worry about tomorrow.

This passage also goes along with something else about which I've been thinking. Wealth. Jesus makes a pretty powerful statement at the beginning of this passage: "You cannot serve God and wealth." Perhaps this is why I am so uncomfortable with the idea of wealth, money, and being rich. It conflicts with my ability to serve God faithfully, as wealth comes at a price.

Recent research has come out to show the gross inequality in wealth distribution within the US. From this, I draw the conclusion that there is only so much wealth to be had. So when some--a small percentage--have the greatest percentage of wealth, it comes at the well-being of the larger population. Wealth and economic success most often comes at the expense of other human beings; it is earned on their backs.

Jesus commands me to love God with my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. I do not see how I can love my neighbor if my acquisition of money deprives them of money or other material necessities. Perhaps this is why I have no desire to be rich. I know you aren't supposed to say this, living in the United States. The "American Dream" is to have money and lots of it. Yet, when I do have any sort of excess money (which, I admit, is rare), I am always inclined to give it away. I cannot desire to have a lot, while others have so little. Nor can I live faithfully to Jesus' desire for me if my acquisition of money and/or stuff is an obstacle in loving my neighbor. I don't want to be poor. I would like to have enough money to meet our basic needs, make decisions as consumers that are more sustainable, and extra only to help others. However, beyond that? Not important.

I'm sure people will point to people who have lots of money and do great acts of philanthropy. Recently, the world's billionaires have committed to giving half of their wealth to charity. Good for them, but half of a billion still leaves them with half a billion, which could still make a huge difference in the world. 

So, then, just how seriously do I take this "don't worry about tomorrow" stuff, coupled with inability to serve both God and wealth? What does this mean for planning for the future? 401k's? Nest eggs? Retirement? I'm not sure, yet. However, I am inclined to think there is another way.

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