Sunday, November 6, 2016

Why Our Lives Should Seek The True Wealth Christ Offers

Luke 16:9-15: True Wealth
“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones. . . If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth?” (10-11)
“. . . for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God” (15).

Jesus instructs both his disciples, those forming in “the Way” of Christ, and the critical Pharisees about the difference between temporal and eternal wealth. In telling the parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13), Jesus sets out to teach an important lesson that contrasts the temporal, distracting character of wealth and social status with the “true wealth” which is eternal and leads us to the kingdom of God.

What is the “true wealth” that Jesus points to in this passage? It is antithetical to temporal wealth, the fixation with status and money that leads people to live dishonest lives. The Pharisees took issue with Jesus’ teaching on this topic because they thrived on living pious lives entrenched in the observance of the Mosaic law and earned status that placed them higher on the social/religious hierarchy: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at [Jesus]” (14). Jesus, in closing, points out that people who justify themselves in the face of their peers, those who seek approval of others in high social standing, are not justified in the eyes of God who sees into their hearts (15).

But we don’t have to live in first-century Palestine for this lesson to have meaning, for it neatly applies to our lives today. Many businesses, for instance, are fixated with the “bottom line” so much that they look at the slightest earnings potential as greater than the lives connected to their company. The “dishonest wealth” mentality, therefore, puts many people out of work.

By condemning a self-centered, socially-hierarchical mindset, Jesus emphasizes the opposite. As children of God, we are to love Him above all things and work toward loving our neighbor as ourselves. This means abandoning the pursuit of exclusive self-service and an unhealthy fixation on wealth and social status. Instead, Jesus guides us to a life that embraces service to God and others.

Giovanni di Bernardone (better known as St Francis of Assisi) is the perfect example of someone who abandoned selfish “dishonest wealth” for Christ-centered “true wealth.” Giovanni’s father was a wealthy business owner and had groomed his son to take over. Young Giovanni had a penchant for money and public relations, so he was talented at sales and shrewd at landing business deals.  Additionally, Giovanni had a fascination with soldierly bravado, and he joined the army to fight in wars and earn a decorated status among his peers. Imagining his life as rich and famous, Giovanni was self-centered and focused on human esteem. But something happened. Giovanni was captured during his stint as an ill-prepared soldier and kept prisoner for a year. Once he returned to Assisi, he was broken and worn out by his experience. Riding home on his horse one day, Giovanni saw a leper, one of the most rejected people of his day, and although he would always stay far away from lepers and look on them with disgust, this time he felt moved to get off of his horse and embrace him. Giovanni saw Jesus in the disguise of the leper. By embracing and kissing the leper, Giovanni realized God was calling him to a life of simplicity and service to the poor, rejected, and outcast. St. Francis (formerly Giovanni), moreover, moved from a life pursuing “dishonest wealth” to a life embracing “true wealth.”

Although we are not all called to be the next St. Francis of Assisi, we can move our lives in small ways to seek the “true wealth” of service to others and to God, and we can embrace Christ in the disguise of the needy and rejected all around us. Does this mean we must seek out an inner-city mission? Maybe. But there are plenty of abandoned people right in our inner circle. Think of that family member who could use a phone call, card, or visit. Think of that long-ago abandoned former friend. Think of that student in our classes or in the hallway who needs a smile, a “hello,” or a few minutes of our time to let them know they are loved and matter. Think of that colleague who irritates us, you know, the one we try to avoid. Can we offer a hello or inquire about their day? In a sense, Jesus calls us all off of our horse as we trot on our way to the life we envision. Jesus invites us to love Him in the disguise that we often ignore.

Please pray with me:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
Amen.

~ This prayer is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Have a blessed Week.

Stan