Saturday, 14 September 2013

You Cannot Serve God and Wealth

Lectionary passages for Sept. 22: Amos 8:4-7, Ps 113, 1 Tim. 2:1-7, Luke 16:1-13
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

My Bible has a little introduction about the book of Amos. It says that there had been a time of peace and prosperity for Judah and Israel, but that the prosperity was full of social corruption.

This text is aimed straight at those who take advantage of others in order to increase their wealth. It's scary stuff, because we live in a place of peace and prosperity too. This sounds familiar. Our gap between rich and poor is growing. The text makes us wonder if we value money higher than people, if our good fortune comes as a result of the needy being trampled. Overall, Canada seems to have a pretty good system, but we know that our governments and corporations are certainly not exempt from corruption, and in a democracy, that's our responsibility too! We can't allow our prosperity to make us complacent about what is happening to others.

Psalm 113 continues the theme of God as a champion of the poor, raising them up from the dust. I can't help but think of the prejudice our culture (all of us to some extent at least) that tends to blame poor people for their predicaments. And yes, sometimes people make bad decisions that land them in bad places, however, of the billions of poor people in the world, I'd be willing to bet that it is a very small percentage who deserve their lot. For that matter, I'd also be willing to bet few of the wealthy really deserve it either. I've had every advantage in life, a close family, good education, supportive friends, jobs when I needed them, good health. I don't think I really deserved any of that, I am just fortunate. That puts me into a place of prosperity, a place that is my responsibility to handle well.

A few weeks ago, on my way to an appointment downtown, I met a distraught man limping out to the sidewalk from behind my doctor's building. He told me that the lady building manager had just kicked him out of the alley where he was picking up bottles to sell. She had yelled at him to go get a job. "But I can't work", he said. He showed me his colostomy bag. "I've had surgery, I'm messed up."

I felt badly for him. He had health problems, and I'm guessing mental issues as well. He had been doing what he could, working to get bottles and cans to take to the recycling place for a bit of money. Apparently, in the eyes of the building manager, that doesn't count as real work. She didn't want his sort hanging around in the alley, picking up cans wealthier people were too lazy to recycle themselves. I sympathized with him and gave him the five dollar bill I had so he could get some breakfast. Obviously, I didn't solve his problem, but he helped me see a bit of what he was up against, and hopefully I made his day a bit better.

Spending time this past summer visiting with people at a drop in center, I learned about why people end up on the streets. The stories of abandonment, abuse, mental illness, bad luck, and bad choices really could happen to any of us. Some of these people do manage to pull themselves out of it, if they have some help. Others stay stuck. But now, I can't really blame many of them. I can look at my society and blame it for not caring enough. Sure we have wealth and relative peace. What are we doing with it? Do we really care, or do we think that somehow we deserve more than others do?

The Bible doesn't teach that being wealthy is a crime. Timothy reminds us to pray for leaders and all those in high places, they face many pressures, temptations, and hard decisions, but there are good people there too. They need support, accountability, and prayer. Wealth isn't bad or good in itself, it is getting wealthy on the backs of the poor is sinful. So is not sharing what we have with those who need help.

The last verse in the somewhat confusing Luke passage is a good one. "You cannot serve God and wealth." But we can serve God with our wealth.

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