Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
1 Timothy 6:6-19
If we read the scriptures loosely, it might appear that Jesus only loved the poor, the marginalized, broken and dispossessed. We might think that any luxury or indulgencies of our own lands us far away from the kingdom of God.
Jesus was constantly saying things like:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh (Luke 6:20-21)
He looked on at the rich young ruler with compassion in his eyes and said: “…sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:12-14)
Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none and whoever has food is to do likewise (Luke 3:11)
At the start of his ministry, he went into the temple and picked up the scroll and began to read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 14:18)
Jesus seemed to have constantly been at odds against the wealthy and powerful as well as the political and even religious leaders of his day because of their indifference with the poor and the oppressed. In fact, it was the cause of his demise on an old rugged cross. If only he would have kept his mouth shut and not cared so much.
Did you know that Jesus talked more about money and possessions than any other subject in the entire gospels, except the “Kingdom of God” itself? He talked more about money than about heaven and hell, let alone who is going where. More than about sex, though the church seems obsessed with who’s sleeping with whom as if anyone really knows.
I’ve thought about that and why that might have been the case. It occurs to me that Jesus might have talked a lot about money, the love of money, and the pursuit of money because he understood how powerful money is – then and now. We live in the United States of America and we know that great wealth is one of the surest ways of being empowered, even above the law, beyond reproach. If one has enough of it, he or she can get just about anything day or night, young or old. One of the greatest sins of our nation – from its earliest beginnings – was the pursuit of money and the harsh reality of slavery and the slaughter of the natives whose land it was. And all of these years later, we are still trying to overcome.
Jesus talked about the poor, the marginalized, and the outsiders because he knew that no one else would talk about them. The rich and famous, the brightest and best, the highest achievers and most gifted would always have a platform. They would always find their place in the spotlight.
But the disadvantaged, those sitting at our feet with wounds and open sores, are easy to overlook and easy to be ignored because they are messy and unkempt. We too, whether overtly or not, participate in systems that keep them that way and we do like our comforts. I know I do.
They remind us of great disparities and inequities of life, and try as hard as they might, they will never get their fair share.
It’s a messy subject, money. And the truth is I don’t much like talking about it. But every time I open the gospels (especially Luke), there it is. Every time I think about the ministry of Jesus Christ and the work of the church, what we do and why, and what is possible for us and through us, there it is.
We cannot have conversations about loving Jesus without acknowledging those who are wanting in our world: the children who go to bed hungry then wake up the next morning and go to school hungry, those who are sold into modern day slavery, the inequities that are rampant, prison reform, those who yearn for safety and a reasonable hope. Those who may never hear any good news, but in the church have a bit of hope that somebody might love them after all.
And so, Jesus kept talking about it, over and over and over. Not because he loved the poor better or more but to constantly raise the moral consciousness of those who have toward those who have less.
And before we start doing the math and putting ourselves into the rich or not rich category, we might want to consider that even those of us who we think we have the least are rich by someone else’s standard. My guess is that all of us have more and access to more than a whole lot of people even in our fair city.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus tells an extraordinary story about the contrasts of life and death, the consequences of how we live, and the reversal of fortunes.
There is a rich man and a poor man. One person was named Lazarus (a common name in those days), the other one unnamed. And did you know that the naming of this man Lazarus is the only named person in any of Jesus’ parables?
Jesus would say: “A certain man had 2 sons,” but we don’t know their names and the mother was not even mentioned at all.
“A woman lost a coin and swept the floor all night long.” Or “a certain man was wounded and left on the side of the road – a Levite, a priest, a Samaritan all come by,” but who Lord? Who were they?
But here, Jesus names the poor, sick, dispossessed man “Lazarus,” who lands at heaven’s gate, thereby humanizing him and making a real person. He has a name, perhaps to remind us that he wasn’t just “anybody” but a real human being, belonging to somebody: a mother or father, sister or brother, friend or spouse. He was a real person and our actions, whether good or bad, are connected to real people. We belong.
One man is rich, dressed in fine purple linen. He had lived the life of luxury while the other man had sat at his gate receiving no mercy. They both die and one ends up in heaven where he is carried away by angels and the other lives in torment, calling out for cool water and help for his family. No help is to be found.
It’s a parable: a story to remind us of what is most important in life, what to do with what we have, how to think about it so that we might be constantly checking in on ourselves in this regard. It’s a slippery slope if we are honest about it. We can come close to making money our god if we are not careful.
Jesus talked about money to remind us of the callous indifference to our brother’s and sister’s suffering even though they lay in plain sight; to remind us that we should never love money, or the pursuit of money more than we love people. And we should never categorize others because of their wealth or feel ourselves less than in any way.
And while we might want to have more, we will never have enough to satisfy the deeper longings of our soul. We need something more. I think there are enough examples in our nation and world to remind us of this truth: money and power, greed and fortune are not enough. They can take us far but not all the way. But when we are conduits of other people’s good news and share what we have for the right reasons, others can live and will live and be better and we too will have enough. I promise you that there will be enough, and our rewards will be great here and now, not just when we die.