Monday, May 18, 2009

Don't Trust in Wealth

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." _1 Timothy 6:17-19

We are so very, very rich. Just look around you. How many meals could the value of that computer in front of you provide for the hungry? How about your car? How about all the cars in the parking lot down the street? We're rich, we just are. If that makes you feel guilty, don't let it. Don't get guilty, get generous. The author of 1 Timothy says, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth..." I think that much of our guilt comes from the arrogance we don't even know we have. We trust in wealth so much we don't even realize it. We trust it so much that we've come to believe that if we just give money, if we just transfer wealth from one to another, we'll be fine, they'll be fine, the problem will be solved. We trust wealth so much that we no longer feel the need to get to know the people we're giving it to... we just trust that their needs will be met by the mystical power of wealth. This trust in wealth leaves us empty, feeling guilty, because deep in our bones we know that money's not enough, it's not just that they need our help but we need them. We are left alone with our arrogance, thinking that they're the unfortunate ones. The remedy to our guilt, and perhaps the only way beyond our guilt and into restoration is to release ourselves from the arrogance which says that they're the only ones who need. We feel guilty when we think that our role is to fix and their role is to be fixed. We get beyond guilt when we see that we are mutually in need of fixing through community which money cannot buy. The opposite of arrogance is the realization of our need for one another.

"Choose a good reputation over great riches;
being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.
The rich and poor have this in common:
The Lord made them both.
A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.
True humility and fear of the Lord
lead to riches, honor, and long life." _Proverbs 22:1-4

What we need to do, as the author of Timothy tells us, is "to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share." That word, "to share," is not just giving money, it comes from the Greek word κοινωνικούς (koinōnikos), from the word Koinonia which means communion by intimate participation. It means getting beyond our trust in our wealth, beyond throwing money at problems, and entering into true Eucharistic community with people. It means doing more than giving, it means offering... offering ourselves to others. It means pacing our trust not in wealth but in the body of Christ, trusting that when we come together in communion our bread comes from God. Their needs will be met and we'll find our needs, the ones we didn't even know we had, our need for compassion and relationship, will be met.

We need each other, not each others' money. It's only by this kind of giving, the giving of our bodies and not just of our wallets, that we " lay up treasure" in the Kingdom of God. For God's kingdom is a kingdom of generosity and true fellowship, of Koinonia and of Eucharistic wholeness which is the "re-membering" of Christ's body (see Torture and Eucharist by William Cavanaugh, page 229-234). When our reward is wealth, when we want others' reward to be wealth rather than love, then our reward will be eaten away and it will eat away at us (see James 5:1-3). When we trust in wealth we becomes slaves to it, our imaginations are taken captive by it and we are made unable to see beyond it, unable to imagine how we could do anything without it. But, "you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children" (Roman 8:15). We together, as "his own children," store treasure in heaven and experience something of the kingdom of God only when we enter into true community which does not arrogantly trust our wealth but offers freely to the world our love and fellowship just as Christ has. When we trust in God, when we open ourselves to his body rather than trying to throw our money at it, when we take care of each other in community, we "take hold of the life that is truly life."

Generosity is bigger than money. It's as big as the Body of Christ. If you only give and trust in your money, and you never give your "deeds" or your companionship to the poor, then you may always feel guilty for your wealth... or you'll become blind to it.

When Jesus sent out his disciples "he told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes" (Mark 6:8-9). Jesus sent the disciples out to change the world and to do it with just themselves and not their money... to do it by relying on others, realizing their need for others, for food and lodging an hospitality. Jesus sent them out to change the world with their bodies by living and eating with people not by writing a check. And "they cast out many demons and healed many sick people" (Mark 6:13).

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