Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson:
Last week’s lessons touched on greed and money. This week Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus talked a lot about money. Someone once disagreed with me about that, saying that Jesus surely talked more about faith and love and forgiveness than He did money.
Well, that could be. For instance, Jesus talked about faith. He once said that people who worry about money — specifically, its byproducts of what we shall eat and what we shall wear — are people of little faith! He talked about love and forgiveness. In a story that combined both, He referred to two servants who owed money to their master. One owed a huge debt, and the other owed less, but neither could repay. The master forgave both, and Jesus asked, “Which one will love him more?” The most powerful story about love and acceptance and forgiveness ever told begins with a young man demanding his inheritance while his father is still living, and then wasting every dime of it on debauchery.
Actually, that story was about lack of forgiveness and acceptance. It was meant to startle those who were unforgiving and unaccepting, who failed to rejoice when the lost turned back to God. It contrasted them to “all of heaven” where rejoicing went on and on over one sinner who repented. It was the third of three stories, all with the same point. The first two were about a lost sheep (property) and — you guessed it — a lost coin.
Like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, today’s Gospel Lesson began with a son demanding his inheritance. It started with last week’s lesson when a man asked Jesus to tell his brother to share the wealth. Jesus launched from that point into an extended discussion about greed, generosity and the use of riches. He continued right into the words I just quoted.
I wonder how many pastors have been told to stick to spiritual matters, and leave the material or economic matters to the congregational experts — business men and women. One pastor says that nobody ever told him that directly. They just sit quietly when he talks, and ignore what he says. I wonder if anybody ever had the nerve to say it to Jesus?
The human tendency is to take Jesus’ advice about selling possessions and giving to the poor with an extremely large dose of salt. We say to ourselves that He was speaking figuratively or spiritually, and that allows us to dismiss the words without looking for the Word that is there for us. A few chapters later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will say the same thing to a “Rich Young Ruler,” who wants to be His follower. That man won’t find any way to dismiss the words. He will keep his money and lose the opportunity to become a faithful disciple and follower.
Jesus did not want the ruler’s riches; He wanted the ruler. The riches themselves were not the issue, but his love of them and dependence on them kept him from loving and trusting God. It was, as St. Paul said last week, the “greed which is idolatry.” We tend to dismiss the story of the rich, young ruler, too. It’s easy for me — I’m not young, I’m not rich and I’m not a ruler. At the same time, I have possessions and, as Jesus predicted, the poor are still with us.
What is behind the instruction to sell possessions and give to the poor? Jesus is a realist. We are uncomfortable with the preacher or with the Lord Himself when we hear direct talk about our money and stuff. People often say, “Where your heart is, there will your money be also.” Jesus reversed the order. He said that rather than money following the heart, the heart will follow one’s money. Someone once said that Jesus was an utter realist. He dismissed timid and casual calls for people’s ‘hearts’ in favor of bolder, frontal attacks on their wallets and purses.
You have heard the phrase, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” It is often true, but we need to be careful with it. In reality, where there is smoke, there is smoke. That is all we know for sure and any additional conclusion requires further investigation. For example, those who talk a lot about something are usually concerned about it. They value it or, in some other way, it matters to them. Well, as we have observed, Jesus talked frequently about money. Did it matter to Him?
We don’t have all the facts, but what we do have suggests this: from the time His ministry began, Jesus never had any money on Him. While He insisted for His disciples that the worker is worthy of his hire, He never accepted payment or gratuity for any speech, sermon, or act of healing. As far as we know, He never accepted payment for anything. We can read about His giving, but not His receiving or taking. He refused to have a king’s crown placed on His head, but He allowed a crown of thorns. He said that, unlike the foxes with dens and the birds with nests, the Son of Man had no place to rest His head. He died penniless, stripped of even the shirt from His back.
Money didn’t matter to Him, but you and I do. For disreputable people, the oldest way in the world to get someone to stop doing something you don’t like is to buy them off. Threats, intimidation and murder come later. As far as we know, no one even bothered to offer Jesus a bribe. It must have been obvious He would not take it. He had to be eliminated. That also proved to be impossible.
The proclamation of the Gospel includes the unquestionable fact that He was executed, but not eliminated. God’s power is revealed in both facts. In the resurrection we see the power of God over everything — sin, death, earthly authorities and powers — you name it! In His death we see, not the power of evil or of earthly authorities, but the unalterable power of God’s love for us. It appears that before Jesus’ death, people knew that money and earthly treasures were not at the center of His heart, but those same people did not know what was there. Impossible as it still seems, they were there, at the center of His heart. You are. I am. No news gives people who hear it and believe it more joy, but most of the world hasn’t heard, doesn’t know and doesn’t believe.
God’s love and the message of the Gospel must be proclaimed to a whole world of people who still do not know it. Because of His astonishing love, God’s urgent concern is that all people hear the Gospel of Jesus and turn to Him in repentance and faith. His love and urgency are behind Jesus’ command to those who are already found — that they go as His envoys to find others and make disciples of all nations. “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.”