There I was, half paying attention in 10th grade English class, when the teacher told us the Bible said “Money is the root of all evil.” Well, my smug little hand shot right up, and I informed him he was wrong.
“ACTUALLY, Mr. Evans, 1st Timothy 6:10 says ‘the LOVE of money is the root of all evil,’ money itself isn’t evil.” That poor man tried to tell me I was wrong, so I whipped the pocket Bible out of my backpack and read it to the class.
As you can imagine, this made me extremely popular amongst my peers, but good little evangelicals don’t expect to be popular when standing up for the truth. And misquoting the Bible was something that I simply could not let slide.
While I laugh at my teenage self who was so sure she knew everything, the distinction is important– money isn’t evil, but loving it is.
And it’s such a great distinction! Now we can all reassure ourselves that we’re doing fine! We don’t LOVE money. Most of us don’t even have that much! When we sit down to pay our bills, we downright hate money.
We are not like the rich man in the gospel message. We would all help Lazarus if he was right outside our gates, covered in sores. You know, if we had a mansion with gates.
But, this is a parable. So the question is, what are our gates?
When I was that know-it-all teenager, I went on a mission trip to Brazil that radically changed the course of my life.
One woman I still think about almost daily was one I met as the team was winding our way through a maze of garbage and shanties in a favela. She wasn’t much older than I was, with a baby heavy on her hip and a husband who was long gone. And she was desperate.
It seems her power had been shut off, and she didn’t have enough money to feed her baby. She showed us her home, a shack literally constructed out of trash, and I was dumbfounded that electricity ran there at all, and shocked even more that someone living in a garbage dump could be in danger of being evicted.
We spoke with her through our translator, prayed with her, and pooled together the cash we had with us to get her power turned back on and get her formula for her baby. Our hosts said they would return to check up on her soon. But I never saw her again.
What I did see, when I returned home, was how wealthy I really was. True, our tiny 1200 square foot house had 30-year-old nasty, burnt orange carpet, and, due in large part to my dad’s illnesses, money was our constant worry. But I looked with new eyes at my bedroom that was bigger than the Brazilian woman’s entire home. Luxury.
We never went hungry.
I was rich.
I changed my career plans, became a missionary, and saw incredible need in many more places. Rarely do I consider my finances without thinking about what I have seen. I know I am blessed compared with much of the world.
We don’t have to step outside our homes to see the need in the world—they are reported to us through a myriad of sources every day.
Right outside our gates, people are in need.
We can shut off the TV and ignore it, just like the rich man walked by Lazarus at his gates.
It’s easy to think of the nights we spend pouring over our bills, trying to figure out how to get things paid and save for future emergencies and think we’re not wealthy, but for nearly all of us in this room, that’s not true.
It may not feel like it, but we are rich. The bottom 5% of Americans have more wealth than 68% of the rest of the world, and their average standard of living is better than most too. We are all enormously blessed.
The Gospels tell us that to whom much is given, much is required. So, what is required of us?
The scriptures contain many passages on wealth. But they don’t set one clear formula.
Jesus told one rich man to sell all his possessions and follow him. Today’s passage in Timothy sets the bar a little lower– those of us who are wealthy shouldn’t flaunt it, we should remember that wealth is uncertain and keep our hopes in God, and be rich in good works.
Money isn’t evil, loving it is.
That is much more comfortable than selling it all! What a relief!
But . . . what does it really mean to love money?
Surely saving for a rainy day is good stewardship, but at what point are we putting our trust in money instead of trusting in God to provide?
Is going out to eat a selfish indulgence when that money could feed a needy family for a week? Or is it good– providing jobs in the local economy?
Sometimes I look at what I spend on clothes, family activities, and the like, and think about that Brazilian woman. Is it okay for me to send my kids to summer camp when other kids are starving to death as I speak?
There aren’t easy answers, and there shouldn’t be.
We wrestle with this on a national level too.
Soon we’ll vote about raising the minimum wage in Maine. At one time, working full time at minimum wage could modestly support a small family, but now it often cannot support just one person.
It is unjust for a person to work 40 hours a week or more and not be able to afford rent and groceries with the money they earn.
But there are some serious concerns about raising minimum wage. True, the Walton family that owns Walmart certainly doesn’t need the billions they have hoarded while their employees often need food stamps, but small business owners don’t always have much wiggle room.
Then there are people performing essential jobs that those who need them often struggle to afford. Surely the home health aide who gets my father out of bed every day, bathes him, and gets him dressed deserves a living wage, but as a dozen family members struggle to pool together enough to get that bill paid every month, the thought of paying more is daunting.
There are ridiculous amounts of wealth hoarded by the CEOs and owners of major corporations who make their riches off the backs of people working well below a living wage. This is undeniably unjust. But the rest is so much trickier.
Many small business owners could make modest lifestyle changes and pay their workers more too. It’s easy to say no one needs a mega-mansion, but do we really need all the space we have?
My current bedroom is twice as big as that Brazilian woman’s entire home.
Perhaps, as a nation, we should raise taxes on the wealthiest, so we could fund essential services and make them affordable for the poor and middle class.
It’s uncomfortable to think about though, isn’t it? It’s tempting to brush this off by saying we work hard, so we deserve to have a few niceties, and that might be true.
Does my dad’s caregiver deserve to live in lesser circumstances so I can go on vacation? He works hard too.
It’s so easy to make excuses, to justify our comfort.
Is the love of money only manifested by hoarding massive wealth and flaunting status? Or is it also when we keep more than we need out of fear for the future?
What do we really need?
We must not think we earned all we have without taking the time to thank God and to acknowledge factors like families who could help us out, race, country of origin, mental health, and so much more.
That mother in Brazil didn’t deserve to live in squalor, but she did. Billions more do. We may not think we love money, but do our actions speak otherwise?
I challenge each person here today to wrestle with these questions. How we use our blessings is a lifelong conversation we should have with the Holy Spirit, and with each other.
As today’s Gospel said, we have the teachings of Moses and the prophets. Look to the teachings in scripture, and wrestle with them.
Ask God to show you where you can better consider and serve the poor, even if the answers are difficult. Even if they feel insulting.
Pray about your votes and consider how your ballot choices affect the needy and the voiceless.
May we not be like the rich man in Hades, asking for comfort and excuses instead of facing the injustices that we perpetrate – be they intentional or thoughtless.
And may we never become so comfortable with our own wealth, as modest as it may be, that we neglect to be rich in generosity.