In Luke 12 Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who had plenty. In fact, the man had so much grain that he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. This rich man believed that because of his new windfall he was set for a life of ease and pleasure. Yet, in a shocking twist of events, the man’s life came to an unexpected end, and his abundance was wasted. He had assumed that his surplus of grain would keep him comfortable for years to come, but instead his life was demanded of him that night, and his excess became useless.
In reading this parable, most of us would agree that the sin of the man was greed. He horded what he could for himself so that he could live out his days in ease. But why is greed a sin? We often consider greed for wealth and possessions as a sin because it puts these things in place of God. In other words, we view greed as a transgression because when we are greedy we make wealth our god. While this is true, it is so only partly. Greed is a sin, not because it puts wealth in the place of God, but because it prevents us from sharing what we have with our neighbors. In telling this particular parable in an agrarian society where most people survived on daily rations of food, Jesus conveyed very clearly that this man’s sin is against God, but only because his sin is against his neighbors who suffer in poverty while he lounges in plenty.
Jesus had a great deal to say about how we view and use our wealth and possessions. One of his most famous statements comes from the Sermon on the Mount where he states that we cannot serve both God and money. But what is particularly arresting when we read thoroughly all of Jesus’ teachings on money and possessions, is that we discover that he always spoke of giving them up in the search for God’s kingdom. In fact, a careful reading of the Gospels seems to suggest that joining the Jesus movement of the first century meant that one must renounce using one’s wealth for selfish indulgence and one ought to embrace the call to use one’s possessions to help those in need. To state his teachings more directly, the demands of discipleship call us to seriously consider giving up our wealth and possessions as we seek to follow Jesus.
How does Jesus’ demand to relinquish material assets pertain to our modern existence? While a response to such a call may not require us to take vows of poverty like St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa, Jesus’ command most certainly means that we must choose to live lives of simplicity. As followers of a homeless vagrant, Christians, both as individuals and as churches, should seek to reexamine our desire for material possessions in light of Jesus’ commands and actions. In doing so, we can accomplish Jesus’ call to express our love for both God and others by sharing our wealth with others. A choice to live modestly, a choice to dematerialize our lives, will free us to share with those in need. This choice also reflects the essence of God, who in Jesus became poor for us.
Moreover, living lives of simplicity and sharing will also move us to consider status, which comes with the gaining of wealth, irrelevant. The snap shot we see of the early church as pictured in the book of Acts shows us a community of faith that deemed sharing as a crucial part of being the church. Possessions were not to be held by individuals while others went without the basic necessities of life. Rather, Christians would sell what they had and distribute the proceeds to all who were in need. This led the Christian community to value equality among the believers, and to reject worldly forms of division such as race, gender, and social and economic standing.
In a world where abject poverty is pervasive, people of faith must choose to live simply and avoid hoarding money and possessions. Doing so will mean that we will have more to share with others; with neighbors, strangers, and those we call our enemies. Furthermore, this lifestyle both imitates the life of Jesus and is a means to bringing God’s kingdom of justice into the world.
Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He blogs at Wilderness Preacher.
Previous related columns:
Jesus’ Message that God’s Kingdom Coming Into the World Still Relevant
God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of Peace
The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of Love
Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.