Sermon Series: The Economics of Jesus
“Faith and Financial Insecurity”
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Here’s the answer. Worse than Judas (anybody say Judas?); worse than Jezebel (anybody say Jezebel?); worse than Cain (anybody say Cain?). The character who is the one that we should most want not to be is the guy who actually gets to ask Jesus a question… think of it, he actually gets to have a one-on-one exchange with Jesus… he can ask him anything he wants to know… he can ask him for any blessing he wants to ask for… he has his unique moment in history to connect with Jesus…
And what he says to Jesus is: “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
He is the person in the Bible I would most want not to be.
Here’s one of the things on my top ten list of things seminary doesn’t prepare you for. It was during my first year of ministry after seminary. I was scheduled to meet with a family to plan their mother’s funeral—her two children, a son and a daughter, and their children. We met in a conference room at the church. Five minutes into the conversation the family members were standing on opposite sides of the table screaming at each other about who would inherit how much and what.
The son and daughter kept turning to me and saying: “Which of us is right, pastor?”
A family has one chance to plan a service that would honor their mother’s life and they can’t do it because they are fanatically obsessed with who will inherit how much.
Money can be about more than money.
In a workplace, money—salaries, say—can feel as though they are about respect and appreciation. In a family—in a will, say—money can feel as if it is about love. Money can make us feel like successes or failures. Our sense of justice and injustice in the world is often centered around money.
We are trying in this sermon series to understand the way that Jesus thought about money… the economics of Jesus.
I have said in almost every sermon in this series that Jesus did not live off of the grid. He participated in the money economy of the society of which he was part. He and his disciples had a treasury (John 12:6). They had a treasurer. They had donors who supported their ministry; the ones mentioned in the Bible are mostly women (Luke 8:2).
Jesus was not an ascetic. He seemed to like to attend parties. They called him a glutton and a drinker (Matthew 11:19). He did not own a home but at least two of his disciples were homeowners (Mark 1:29). He did own what seems to have been an expensive cloak, the most important article of clothing people owned at the time because you might have to sleep in it as well as wear it during the day (John 19:23).
Jesus’ statement of the purpose of his ministry in the Gospel of Luke was to announce the year of Jubilee, the year of the end of economic injustice, good news to the poor[i] (Luke 4: 18-9). Luke’s Jesus believes his ministry will have an impact on the world so as to make the world more equitable. According to the Book of Acts (also written by Luke), Jesus’ first followers lived owning everything in common after his death and resurrection (Acts 4: 32).
They believed that following Jesus meant giving up private property and living as (small c) communists. That is what those who were closest to him in time thought following Jesus meant.
Jesus told some rich people to give their money to the poor and follow him if they wanted to live an eternally meaningful life. Luke says Jesus told everybody who wanted to be his disciple to give away their possessions. “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:33).
None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Luke’s Jesus makes a total economic claim on the lives of his disciples. Matthew and Mark’s Jesus does not seem to make the same extreme claim, but Luke’s Jesus does.
All this is hard to translate into our time and place. What does it mean for we who seek to be disciples of Jesus here and now?
A couple weeks ago Garrison Keillor was talking about Lutherans on The Prairie Home Companion. [ii]
“This is what Lutherans believe,” he said. “We don’t believe in miracles. We don’t approve of them. We don’t believe in big transformations. No matter what Scripture says, we don’t believe in it.
“We believe everyone has a dark side, and if you will turn away from that and look at what is good within you and focus on that and do your best, it will turn out okay.
“This is what we believe in. It’s not what Jesus said. This is our own religion. Jesus advocated big dramatic things – Give all that you have to the poor and come follow me. We don’t go for that.
“But Jesus wasn’t married with children. He didn’t do that. He wasn’t a homeowner; he was the Son of God… Whole different thing.”
That’s what Garrison Keillor says Lutherans believe.
So what does Jesus really expect of us?
I don’t know if Jesus expects us to sell our homes and cars and give the money to the poor. I suspect he may call some of us to do that, and some of us do. There are more people doing this than we know. I recommended three books you might want to read if you are interested in thinking more about this topic. One of them is a discussion about Jesus’ teachings on money that comes out of the new monastic movement—Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove’s book God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel.
There are 12 marks of the new monastic movement and the first three are:
1) Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
3) Hospitality to the stranger.[iii]
There are still more people than we are aware of who choose to give up private property, to live in community, to own everything in common for the sake of the ministry that they are called to.
But I am not convinced that this is the kind of life Jesus calls us all to. You remember there were people Jesus healed whom he did not permit to follow him but he sent them home to be witnesses to the people they lived with in their ordinary lives in the cities where they lived (Luke 8:39).
I am convinced that one of Jesus’ core teachings was a warning not to let money get in the way of a rich and full life.
I think this is the point Jesus is making in response to the person in the Bible I’d least like to be.
He asks Jesus, “Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Then he tells the story of a person who got so caught up in his own success that he put off living a rich and full life until it was too late.
In the story the person did not even appear to be greedy. It wasn’t that he set out to accumulate possessions. It was that his farm produced so well that he got caught up in expanding to accommodate his success. It wasn’t that he set out to be rich; it was that he got caught up in trying to keep up with his own success. In the process he put off enjoying life; he put off parties, he put off relationships, he put off literature and music, he put off working for justice—things that make us rich toward God, spiritually whole—and when he finally reached the point where he thought he had built enough barns that he could pay attention to those kinds of things, he had no more life left.
Notice that what Jesus said was: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” All kinds. Because greed is not just about money and possessions. We can be greedy for other things. We can be greedy for attention. We can be greedy for admiration and adulation. There are people who can not get enough adulation. The more they have the more they want. We can be greedy for competence and proficiency and for knowledge.
We can be greedy for love. Have you ever known someone who just could not settle down with a partner because they were always looking for a more perfect love? We can even be greedy for God. We may need a sense of God’s presence in our lives too much. God will not always be present to us the way we want God to be present to us.
We may even be greedy for poverty.
We need to be very careful in our thinking about this, because we don’t want
to ever blame the victim. But I listen to the podcast of a
Pentecostal/charismatic church in
But I have never heard the
Greed is any desire that causes us to hold off living a rich and full life today because we don’t think life can be rich and full until we have something we don’t have yet or we don’t have enough of something to start really living yet.
This is why, in Luke, Jesus goes directly from telling the parable of the rich fool to the teaching that begins: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”
Whatever it is that is causing us to put off leading the best and fullest life we can live today, let it go. Assume you may never have it and ask what it means to leave 100 percent today even if it never happens for you.
One of the greatest paradoxical truths Jesus ever taught is: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Or Luke 17:33: “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.”
The only way to save our lives is to invest them into today… to let go of everything that seduces us to suppose it will give us life and live today in the Spirit of Christ.