Monthly Archives: September 2016

Money (Pentecost 19c, Proper 21c)

What is money for?  It’s strange how, in a materialistic culture, we don’t ask the question.  An Economist would probably give an answer about the convenience of avoiding barter for all transactions – true, but not entirely helpful.

Looking at Luke 16:19-31, or indeed remembering Jesus’ disciple Matthew the Tax collector, we do at least see some ways of getting it wrong.  The rich man of the parable found that his wealth meant he didn’t have to think about other people, and got into the habit of seeing the poor as available to run errands for his convenience.  Matthew left a career in the financial sector (well, I suppose that is how we would describe it now -?) for the uncertainties of travelling with and learning from Jesus.

If we try to ask what Jesus taught about money, it is not quite straightforward.  While one rich young man was told to get rid of his wealth and follow (Mark 10:17-23), that was not true of all his followers.  Some came from the families of tradespeople (the fishermen, for example, left their father in the boat with the hired men – Mark 1:20), some like Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and the women who funded Jesus ministry, clearly had wealth.

At the same time, there is no encouragement to see wealth linked to status.  There are warnings in this story against letting wealth get in the way of relationships (compare James 2:1-10).  I think it would be fair to say that having money – even at the average of British life – gives added responsibility (in using it as God’s managers), and added temptations (to misuse it).  Given that we in the west are wealthy, why is it that we so seldom ask what money is for, and how we might judge our use of it, and what are the good and bad models?

Costs (Pentecost 16, Proper 18)

We sometimes say that we know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Some people can tell you the exact price of a car, a dress, a watch. Odd then that we don’t count the cost of discipleship, when Jesus talks clearly about it (Luke 14:25-33). True, discipleship is a gift. Our faith is something given us by God’s grace, – but the running costs are high! In fact v33 is a problem. What does it mean? “none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.”
Some have accepted a vocation to life as monk, nun or friar. By giving up personal property, they find a certain freedom – although the community has to have ownership of some things to enable their life, and it is of course a community without children. That’s the point of v 26 – if family loyalties count for more than loyalty to Jesus and faith in him, faith isn’t possible.

I think that is also what the little parables about building a tower, or making war, are about. In both cases, there’s no point unless you can see the project through and finish it successfully. So in Christian life, don’t start unless you’re serious! Get half way and try to pull out, and you’re in a mess – half a tower is useless, half a war if much more dangerous than none. Half a faith – a faith that is only serious in some ways – is the same. It doesn’t work, it causes trouble.

So what are we supposed to do? What did Jesus mean:
“none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.”
It is not that everything is bad – we know Jesus enjoyed parties, & people. We also know that he owned nothing that would get in the way of his mission.  What he is saying to us is that Christian discipleship must be the most important thing, or nothing. If we don’t want to live out our faith more than we want other things, it won’t work, and is in danger of being a waste of time.

Does anyone do that? Well, I think it is something that we grow into. You get into a situation, and have to decide – it may be whether to put yourself out, to make an effort you would rather not. And so you grow, and next time, that answer is a little easier.Of course, you can also fail – no, I’ll try that another time, I really can’t be expected to do this. And nobody can know – you can’t do everything! But you will get to know whether you keep saying No to God, or whether you say Yes often enough to be stretched and grow.

We are not called to be wandering beggars; but we are called to be ready to use whatever we have in God’s service. No, it’s not mine, its on the list of things available for use as God directs. If you haven’t got much, the list isn’t very long. But if you have, the temptation to hold back is greater. Jesus wasn’t against the rich, he just knew that when it came to counting the cost of discipleship, they would find it more difficult to pay.