The Lord warned his disciples to be wary of greed in all its forms. Greed is a persistent and inveigling tempter, enticing us to value what is worthless and to ignore the greatest gift of all.
as interpreted by Deborah
A man in the crowd called out to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Friend, who set me as a judge or arbitrator over you?”
Then he said to them, “Now watch out. Be on your guard against greed in all its forms; because life isn’t about possessions.”
Then he told them a parable:
A rich man owned stock in a company that produced several hundred million dollars in dividends. “Nice!” said the fellow, “Now what am I going to do with all this money?”
Then he said, “I’ll remodel my house and add on another wing, build a bigger garage and buy a new Aston-Martin, and a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K, get myself a place in Aspen and put the rest into gold bullion. “And then I can say to myself, ‘You’re set for life, buddy! So relax: eat, drink, be merry.’”
But God said to him, “You dope! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And all this stuff you’ve accumulated: whose will they be?”
Jesus sat down and folded his hands in his lap, nodding thoughtfully, “That’s how it is with those who amass treasures for themselves but are not generous to God.”
Most of us hear this scripture and say to ourselves, “Right, right. Think before you spend, money isn’t everything, give to the church. We know all this. Easy peasy.” We’ve heard it all before, we get it. Besides, we’re not millionaires, but if we do win the lottery we’ll be sure to donate a nice sum to the local church.
I have trouble with that interpretation, perhaps because it is too easy: too easy to ignore; too easy to misinterpret; too easy to turn into a simple platitude that has nothing to do with our relationship with God.
“Well,” I hear you say, “The part about giving money to the church — that has to do with our relationship to God.”
What does it really mean for us to “be generous to God”?
Jesus rightly warns his disciples to “be on the lookout for greed in all its forms.” Yet once again our love of / obsession with money has blinded us to the Gospel message. In this passage the Lord does not say “give money to the church.” Read it in any translation, and you will find no mention of giving money to God or to the church (Luke 12:21, for quick reference).
God has no use for gold or silver; diamonds and pearls are meaningless trifles: everything on earth already belongs to the Creator. You can’t give somebody something that’s already his. (e.g., Job 41:11, Psalms)
What is of value to God is us. We are the treasure. Our lives, our faithfulness, our commitment to the Rule of Love and the Kingdom of Heaven — those are more precious than rubies to the Lord.
Because of free will, your soul is yours to do with as you see fit. That is the one thing — the only thing — you can give to God.
Our love, our loyalty, our talents and our attention: those are the great riches that we selfishly withhold from God, frittering them away on useless ornaments, wasting them in pursuit of worldly “wealth” and cheap thrills.
Jesus never concerned himself with subsidizing the worshipping community. The only building campaign the Lord preached about was the building of the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is true that Jesus and his disciples were supported in their ministry: they were provided with lodging, food, and clothing — but the purpose and goal of all that they did and said was to extend the boundaries of God’s kingdom. Each baptized “citizen of heaven” is mandated to do likewise: to “go forth, preaching the good news.” Every new Christian community became a mission outpost for the spread of the Gospel.
Living a Christian life can be difficult, even in the best of times. We need a time and place to refuel and refresh our souls before entering back into the world with love and faith. That is why, from the earliest times the local community joined together to encourage one another in all good works. That’s how churches began.
But we must always remember that “church” is not a place, but a community. Church is a gathering of the Lord’s disciples: it is the people, not the building.
I think it was Eugene Peterson who said that many Christians suffer from an “edifice complex.” We get caught up in the “theirs is bigger” / shinier / newer /mentality. We forget that what ultimately matters is not the expansion of the Fellowship Hall, but the extension of the Gospel. (Jesus said, “Watch out for greed in all its forms.”)
We have not been called to construct buildings, but to build disciples.
Our task — and our challenge — is to keep to the Path our Lord revealed. We must make His priorities our priorities. We must be, as He was, people of prayer at work in the world.
What matters is not where we pray, but that we pray.
I am not suggesting that we lock the doors to the chapels, close the cathedrals, and shutter the meeting halls. But we need to remember that they are only means to an end; refueling stations and rest stops along the Way of Salvation. They must not become an end in themselves: for that is idolatry.
Giving our attention to a building — even a very beautiful, old, architecturally-significant building with a cross on top — does not take the place of giving our lives to God. In fact sometimes those buildings can distract us from God.
Jesus tells us that what God wants from us is not a remodeled sanctuary, but a reformed soul. For it is within our hearts that the Beloved longs to dwell; not amid wood and stone.
What is of value to God is not a place, not a thing, not gold or jewelry or improved parking. What is value to God is us. We are the treasure; we are God’s pearl of great price.
Being generous to God is much more demanding than writing a check for the stewardship campaign. Being generous to God is giving fully of ourselves: dedicating our lives — every thing we do and say, everything we hope for and believe — to God’s glory and honor.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
In what ways are you “stingy with God”? What aspects of your life do you waste on worthless things? What would it be like to truly give yourself over to the One Who loves you utterly?