all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away
from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:10).
32:1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 146, 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
SCAN is one of those things you do in the CAF checkout
lane. It’s a useful sort of activity,
because we all have to leave, voluntarily or otherwise, and there’s a lot to think about as we go from a military life
to a civilian life, and there’s a lot about resume writing and
networking and retraining and possible second careers, which are all good to
about benefits, educational opportunities, pensions, disability
allowances. In other words, there was a
lot of stuff about money: how much do
you need, how much you can get? Can I
get compensated for an injury incurred during my military service? Can I get money to go back to school? Can I get money to go back to school and
retrain for a second career?
the room, mostly middle aged, got really thoughtful when they started to
reflect on their own mortality. That
happened when they talked about what age you could take your pension – 55? at 60 when, as the presenter said, you have
one foot in the grave? at 65?
they started talking about survivor’s benefits and the importance of making a
will, that’s when people were reminded that they we can’t take it with us. Everything has an end. There’s nothing more sobering than realizing
how actuarial tables work, and how choosing when to take a pension is to place
a bet on how much longer one will live.
think about. Someone once said that
being hanged in the morning concentrates the mind marvellously, and the same is
true when you realize that the pay check and benefits that we’ve come to depend
on will come to an end.
that day was that by and large, the people in that room will be ok. They have decent pension plans, they have
good benefits and good prospects of second careers. The medical release process is fairly
generous. People will be looked after
and the wolf will be kept from the door.
seminar, I couldn’t help but wonder, what about all the people facing old age
without these things? According to
Statistics Canada, fewer than half of Canadian workers, and fewer women than
men, have a workplace pension plan. Many
people will enter their late years without much security or rest. That cheerful old person greeting you at
WalMart may not be there by choice.
thought for them? Because that’s what
Christians do. The gospel is pretty
clear that our responsibilities extend well beyond meeting our own particular
needs and responsibilities. For every
word that scripture tells us about what to do with our bodies, there are many
more that tell us what to do with our money, and this is especially true of the
readings today speak very clearly about our relationships to wealth, to God,
and to one another. They describe both
God’s economics and God’s justice, and they give us some rich opportunities to
reflect on what we do with the material gifts that God has given us: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds
of evil” (v 10). Note that it is not the
root of all evil, but is definitely a source of evil. If there “godliness” can bring us “contentment”,
then the desire for wealth leads in the opposite direction, taking away from “faith”
and into a state of life where we are “pierced with many pains” (v10).
pains? Could they include anxiety? A restlessness that comes from never having
enough? Worry about what happens when
the money runs out? A materialism that
leads us away from our relationship with God and into a kind of idolatry where
we think that we must be self-sufficient in all things, not needing God or
all these things in the world around us, in our politics, our popular culture,
even in our neighbours and in ourselves.
I think of a man I knew who tracked his stock portfolio online, back
when that was a new thing, and would shout red-faced at the screen when his
investments had a bad day. He had by
any standards a comfortable existence, and yet he was “pierced with many pains”.
wealth and more are one of those subjects, like war and non-violence, that
Christians have long debated. It would
take far too long to sketch a summary of Chrisian attitudes about wealth and
money over the years, but it would probably start with the earliest church, in
Acts 2, which sold its goods and lived held all things in common, the church in
Corinth which Paul accuses of ignoring the social divisions of its members,
through the middle ages and the established church’s great acquisition of land
and wealth. We could spend an hour
looking around Christianity today, with the debate over the prosperity gospel,
and the way that churches today tend to mirror social, class, and racial
divisions in western culture.
doubt, ask a simple question: what does
Jesus say? Last Sunday I preached on the
first half of Luke 16, the parable of the dishonest manager, which is perhaps
the most difficult of the parables to interpret because it’s the story of a
rascal who cooks the books, tricks his master, and yet appears to do well from
it. The important thing about the
parable is that Jesus twice uses the phrase “dishonest wealth”, and Jesus
contrasts the dealings of the people of this age with the dealings of the
children of light.
wealth” invites us to read the gospels as showing that Jesus had, at the very
least, a healthy skepticism about wealth, as we might expect from an itinerant
preacher. Certainly we know that Jesus
and his disciples needed money to get by; they had a common purse, women of
some means who helped them financially, and they had trades and means to make a
living, like boats (Jn 8:2-3, 12,6). Was
this a lavish lifestyle? I’ve heard that
some defenders of the prosperity gospel argue that Jesus and his disciples were
in fact quite wealthy, but to me that argument seems to fly against the
teaching of Jesus.
there is nothing that a shrewd financial adviser would admire. Consider the three parables in Luke 15 that
come just before our gospel reading today.
A shepherd abandons 99 valuable sheep in the wilderness and goes off to
find the lost sheep (Lk 15:1-7). A woman
searches for a lost coin, and when she finds it, invites her friends and
neighbours to a celebration that costs more than the coin is worth (Lk
15:8-10). A father throws a lavish
party for a son who has squandered half of his net worth (Lk 15:11-32).
doesn’t follow the rules of shrewdness and cunning that we would want our own
wealth managers to give away. People
with money tend to happily give it away, or like he parable of the vineyard
workers in Matthew, they get the same wage regardless of how long they’ve
worked (Mt 20). The laws of capitalism
as we understand it don’t seem to apply to the kingdom of heaven.
about a rich man who has no compassion for a poor man named Lazarus
(16:19-31). The first part of the
parable paints a highly exaggerated picture of contrast, from the rich man’s
purple robes to the dogs licking the sick and frail body of Lazarus. Both die, and the rich man discovers the
truth of 1 Tim 6:7 “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take
nothing out of it”. In the afterlife,
the rich man is punished and now envies the comfort of heaven given to Lazarus,
but unlike he ghost of Jacob Marley in Dicken’s Christmas Carol, the rich man
is not given the chance to warn others of his fate.
parable however focus on the proximity of the two men, and the fact that the
rich man knows Lazarus’ name. How does
he know that? If he knew Lazarus’ name
in life, was he not even more obligated to do something for him? The rich man doesn’t even have our excuse of
treating the homeless on our streets as nameless, faceless things that we can safely
ignore, or even treat as nuisances. And
yet, as the commentator Mitzi Smith notes, “he asks that Abraham
demonstrate mercy by sending Lazarus to cool his tongue by dipping his finger
in water and placing it in his mouth to alleviate his agony (Luke 16:25). In
death as in life, the man treats Lazarus as if he is a slave/subordinate whose
purpose is to serve him.”
understand a parable such as this one, context is everything. We need to look at what Jesus says elsewhere
and how that parable fits into his wider teaching. In fact, he has a lot to say to the rich, including that they “consider selling all their possessions
and redistribute the proceeds to the poor (18:18-25); be commended for giving
half their possessions to the poor and making restitution to those they
defrauded (19:1-10); and he shames the rich who contribute gifts to the Temple
from their wealth, while a poor widow gives her; she sacrificed (too) much and
they gifted relatively little (21:1-4)” (Mitzi Smith, commentary).
sermon by encouraging you to try a little harder to remember the poor, to show
the less fortunate some kindness, and give a little more at church. However, that sort of exhortation might
risk buying into a kind of works righteousness whereby we simply try harder to
do our best to be kind and, hopefully, to please God. It is true that 1 Timothy 6:18 encourages us
to “do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share”.
Certainly its words go far beyond token efforts. The passage is a vigorous exhortation to the fully engaged Christian life: “Fight the good
fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In
the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in
his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14
to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our
Lord Jesus Christ (12-15).
focusing on the word “confession”. It
is not meant, I think, in the sense of admitting to bad things that we might
have done, as the sheep in the cartoon at the top seems to think. Rather, as the Lutheranscholar Karl Jacobsen notes,
do with two things: first, it may be a confession of faith, like the
description “I believe in … ”. Second, this confession is an exhortation to
faith, like the prescriptive, “Believe this … ” or “Do not doubt but believe”
(to coin a phrase). Homologeo occurs just a few times in the New
Testament. Here, of course, and tacitly in the description here in 1 Timothy in
the story of Jesus before Pilate, and again in Hebrews 3:1, where Jesus is
called, “the high priest of our confession.” Here in Timothy, that good
confessions is, as I have said, first made by Jesus and then echoed by Timothy.
In Hebrews, the good confession is both the confession of Jesus the high priest—he
is the one who makes it for us—and at the same time the confession we, in turn,
make about Jesus our high priest. There is both a subjective and an objective
sense to our good confession. Most striking is the use of homologeo in 2
Corinthians 9:13, as it parallels 1 Timothy’s pairing of the good confession,
and the warning about the love of money.”
relationship to wealth must begin and end in our relationship with Jesus, our full identification (confession) of him, and
must be grounded in a fulsome participation in the economy of the kingdom of
God. As we have noted, God’s economy as
seen in the parables of Jesus doesn’t look much like earthly economies. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,
it is easy to imagine that we might tinker with the edges of it to make it less
intimidating. What if the rich man had
spent a little more time worrying about Lazarus? What if he had given a small fraction of he
wealth to the poor? Would that have
but you can feed the one at your gate”, which in the end may be all that we can
think we also need to be open to a radical imagining of the world, in which
divisions of wealth and poverty are completely swept away in the kingdom of
God. Certainly it will be thus in the
kingdom of heaven, when we arrive there with nothing that we had on earth, but
only our soul, which might indeed be a very poor thing indeed, but whose value only heaven can tell.
called on to remember, as best we can, that our economics must align with the
economics of heaven, and that the final transaction we are involved in will but
be our own, but God, through our confession of his son, Jesus Christ,
purchasing and redeeming our poor and impoverished soul, at a great price,
through the abundance of God’s love.