So this rich and popular guy comes up to Jesus and asks the standard question, “How can I be blessed?” Some thought him blessed already, because he was rich, and popular. He may have been popular because he was rich. Jesus gives the standard reply, “worship God and be good.” They both know there’s a follow-up coming. “I do all that” says the rich and popular guy, and he probably did do it all. Lots of rich people worship God and tell the truth, look after their parents, are faithful to their spouses, recycle diligently and wouldn’t dream of hurting anyone. But Jesus looks through the rich and popular façade and sees the fear and the insecurity that lie behind. “Give it all away” he says.
Another rich (and no doubt popular) guy was having an employment appraisal with his boss (in a story Jesus told). He’d made his boss a lot of money, doubled his investment in fact. “Well done” says the boss, “here’s some more. I know you’ve got lots but I know I can trust you with more.”
It looks like one rich guy gets told to give it away and the other gets given more. Whatever we learn from these biblical stories it has to include the truism that “the amount is not important”. We can point to any number of characters in the Bible whose faith we can respect, from whom we can learn; some who are rich (Job, Abraham, King David, Matthew, Joanna, Lydia) and others who are poor (Job, Elijah, Amos, Paul, John).
I know rich people who are content.
I know poor people who are content.
I know rich people who are miserable.
I know poor people who are miserable.
I know that God loves them all and welcomes worship and love from each one. I know that His Son Jesus became poor so that they may all become rich. I am pretty sure that the amount of money that they have is irrelevant. The amount is not important.
Maybe the question means something different. Maybe we should ask, “Should being a Christian lead you inevitably down a road to poverty”.
It’s hard to find an example of someone whose faith has, in and of itself, led someone into poverty. Some of those who followed Jesus laid down their jobs and businesses in order to get into the impecunious trade of being fishers of men. But others stayed wealthy (particularly the women in Jesus’ entourage who may well have funded the team). There are plenty of invocations to give up everything, to sacrifice, to take up the cross; equally there are many promises of blessing and fruitfulness.
I am often struck by Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “command those who are rich in this world to be generous…” (1 Timothy 6:17). He doesn’t say, “command those who are rich to get poor”. The inference from Paul’s words is that the “rich in this world” will continue to be rich and should continue to be generous.
Maybe our question should be re-phrased. Maybe we should ask, “Does being a Christian change your attitude to money or wealth?”
I think this was what Jesus was getting at when he looked in the rich and popular guy’s eyes. I don’t think Jesus was bothered about the amount of money; he was concerned about a heart in fearful lockdown. To press the point home Jesus told another parable about a rich farmer who hoarded grain in a fruitless attempt to suppress his fear and control his future. That very night he transitioned to a different life where the abandoned barns were of no help whatsoever.
Money brings many challenges to our faith. For the poor, the faith challenge is sometimes envy of the rich. For the rich, the faith challenge is sometimes a lack of trust. It’s not that rich Christians should inevitably pursue poverty but that becoming a Christian pulls radically on those cords that tie money to our souls. Faith teaches us to worship the Great Provider first and foremost and gradually we learn contentment and trust and that the amount is not important.