One of the members of my church in Liverpool refused to sing ‘take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee’ because she took seriously the line ‘take my silver and my gold’. Maybe she felt a little guilty about having a good life in a world of massive poverty. She was in fact one of the most generous people you could find. But even thinking about money does that to good people. Confuses and embarrasses them. Maybe you too?
Jesus had far more to say about riches than about sex (- he hardly ever talks about sex, compared with some Christians who never talk about anything else!!) Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel (6,vv24-34) is typical: Jesus says ‘you cannot serve God and money’. You may remember the old translation ‘mammon’, highlighting the attraction and the power of wealth. Some people, even some believers, see prosperity as a sign of God’s favour and not simply a combination of family background and inheritance, lucky breaks and lots of energy, often aggressive energy. But – and it is a big but – Jesus once said “a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”. That sentiment still feels out of place in our modern society just as it did in his own time. And there’s more: Jesus also said “from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required”. This is not the language of socialism but of decent priorities for a fair society. Jesus knew that being rich and always wanting more is soul-destroying; remember his encounter with the ‘rich young ruler’.
The answer is not poverty of course. Poverty is also soul-destroying for different reasons and there is plenty of Biblical and Christian teaching about tackling the evil of poverty. But in between having too little and having too much lies the common ground which we can call the land of enough, a land that might even be called blessed, with contentment (not complacency).
The apostle Paul wrote about this: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have; I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need”. What a message for every generation. We really need to regain the land of enough. It is where Jesus wants us to live, thankfully, in the ‘kingdom’ of God.
Despite what you may have heard, the Bible does not say ‘money is the root of all evil’ but ‘the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’. It is this subconscious greed which lies behind the tenth of the Ten Commandments, ‘thou shalt not covet’. Yet that is how society expects us to live today, promising us happiness through things.
Again, being ‘rich’ is relative. In a table of personal disposable income I am below average. By comparison with the majority of the human race I am in the richest 10%. Which comparison should I use? It’s all relative. Spiritually a small coin from a poor widow is worth more than the lavish cheques of rich benefactors. However, just because one pound will do some good doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chip in £20 or even £50 if you can!
The land of enough is such a good place to be. But it does require a deliberate willingness on our part to live like that, against the grain of society which is for ever beguiling us with the prospect of an extra this or an unnecessary that, to make us happy.
Enough is what we need for happiness.
Revd Peter Brain