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Money Matters - Part I:

"Same Old Foolishness" by Bob Weber - Elder and Evangelist, Chatham Church of Christ

Economic news is always news. Stock market reports, employment figures, and housing starts make up a considerable amount of press coverage. Perhaps it is not without reason that people keep a close eye on the economy. We spend the lion’s share of our time bartering our services in return for money. The money we acquire buys food, clothing, and shelter from others who likewise have bartered their time and energy. We call it a job, and we need it to survive. In simple economic terms we need money. Money matters!

Christian teaching about money borders on the schizophrenic: on the one hand numerous Old Testament saints and some New Testament Christians had lots of it, on the other hand greed and the love of money attract strong condemnations. We are thus not surprised that Christendom in general maintains a measure of the same divided mindset. Some leaders of churches espouse the belief that God wants his people to be rich while other leaders and various Christian groups insist that poverty is the more spiritual lifestyle. Because money will always play a major role in human society, it demands scrutiny, and because Jesus himself taught on the subject of money, his words demand our attention.

Still the Fool - Jesus tells one story about a certain rich man in the Gospel of Luke 12:13-21. His land produced abundantly, and he had to build new barns to store his produce. He decided that with his new found wealth he could retire early and spend the rest of his life relaxing, eating, drinking, and making merry. While he focuses on his personal well-being and comfort, God calls him a fool! He does not account for the brevity of his life. On the very night he makes his plans to spend his days in ease, content that he has enough for a long life, God demands an end to his life. He is abruptly reminded that he cannot take anything to the grave. Someone else will enjoy the bounty of this man’s land while he will answer to God for a life devoid of good toward others.

He has not accounted for a different kind of abundance, for a life that is rich toward God. Thus the one who defines his life by what he acquires is foolish in God’s eyes, and a successful life cannot be measured by the accumulation of wealth. Abundance does not determine happiness. A life well lived looks different than a life well invested. We play the modern day fool when we imitate the Rich Fool’s mistake.

This rich man could be the poster boy for much of today’s advertisement. Think about the number of magazines—not just ads in the magazines, whole magazines—dedicated to health, fitness, increasing wealth, beauty, and eating. They all purport to have the answers to making life rewarding and happy. Listening to them it is easy to conclude that satisfying all of our bodily desires leads to certain contentment. Like this man in Jesus’ story our world operates from the belief that happiness stems directly from the things we accumulate, the food we eat, and the entertainment we experience.

Today’s Rich Man - Jesus prefaces this story with one of his most trenchant remarks, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” (Luke 12:15). The Bible supports this contention in other ways. In another place Jesus asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life” (Matthew 16:26)? In addition he rebukes Satan by saying, “Man does not live on bread alone,” (Matthew 4:4), and he chastens a crowd who came to him looking for more bread by challenging them to work for a more permanent kind of food (John 6:27). Jesus defines true life by something other than the accumulation of wealth.

The Parable of the Rich Fool is prompted by someone in the crowd asking Jesus to mediate with his brother over their inheritance. Besides refusing the role of arbiter on a legal matter, Jesus sets the debate on another plane. He moves from the legal to the moral. This becomes a matter of the heart, of one’s attitude toward material possessions. Drawing on the Tenth Commandment prohibition about not coveting anything belonging to someone else he warns against covetousness and greed. Here lies the real problem with material things.

Luke 12:13-21 provides a window into the world of wealth and greed in the first century; it looks eerily like our world. The temptation to acquire more and more is certainly magnified in an economy driven by our marketplace of commercials, malls, and the freedom to purchase whatever money can buy. Not only are we tempted to accumulate much, but we are also tempted by the newest and best even when the old still works. We love our gadgets, restaurants, cars, home improvements, and whatever else we can purchase. Jesus’ warning strikes a familiar chord. We want more and more, and we accumulate things because it makes us happy—at least for the time being. The Rich Fool of the first century is the same Rich Fool of today.

What Really Satisfies - Greed and covetousness have always characterized human behavior, and the temptations today are magnified by the opportunities to acquire more. We have so much available to us that all we need to do is come up with the money and many things can be ours. Since we are drawn to what satisfies our yearnings here and now, like the Rich Fool in Jesus’ story we avoid thinking about the next life by focusing on what we can enjoy in this one. A life focused on spiritual virtues does not provide the tangible results of a life focused on accumulating things. Riches seem to make it easier to avoid preparing for death and tending to our spiritual lives. But the things that genuinely satisfy us are not found in stores and showrooms. Jesus defines true life in terms of our relationship to the God whom we’ll face in the next life, and he warns us not to be a twenty-first century Rich Fool.

NEXT: Money Matters II: "The World Gets in the Way "

 

(c) Copyright 2007, Chatham Church of Christ