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Archive for Saturday, November 10, 2007

Faith Forum: Is it a sin to be a rich person?

November 10, 2007

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Managing wealth honorably is difficult

Joanna Harader, pastor, Peace Mennonite Church, 615 Lincoln St.:

Jesus talks about money more than he talks about sex or drugs or profanity or (fill in your favorite sin here).

Ever notice how many of Jesus' parables deal with wealthy kings and land owners? We usually assume these figures represent God. However, there is a good case to be made that these parables critique rather than legitimize the extreme class divisions of the first century. (See Luise Schottroff and William Herzog, among others.)

Ever notice that the only time we see Jesus really angry is when he is turning over tables at the temple? The money-changers and sacrifice-sellers were making a bundle off of the pilgrims who had journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover.

Jesus does not criticize having money. He does criticize those who hoard money. He does criticize those who gain money at the expense of other people. He does criticize those who are so concerned about money that they miss the important things in life.

So Jesus cautions against wealth. But is it a sin to be rich? Let's define "sin" as any action or attitude that harms our relationship with God, other people and/or the natural world.

Do we look to our wealth for security instead of to God? Is our wealth dependent upon the economic exploitation of the poor? Are we acquiring our riches by using the Earth's resources at an unsustainable rate?

I would say that it is not necessarily a sin to be rich. It is possible to acquire and use money in a way that honors God, enhances human relationships and cares for creation.

It is possible, but it is difficult.

How difficult? Take a camel. Take a needle. You figure it out. (See Matthew 19:24.)

Send e-mail to Joanna Harader at peacemennonite@gmail.com.

Riches touched by God can do good

The Rev. Gary Teske, senior pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H.:

I must confess that the mischievous side of me wanted to respond to this question with the single, three-letter word, "YES!" and then watch the reactions. What would all of you readers have done if I had replied with the shortest essay in Faith Forum history?

Would you have agreed but reasoned that I wasn't talking about you because you aren't rich, at least not rich enough for it to be considered sinful? Would you have been outraged and called me to complain? Would you have been shocked and wondered, at least a little, about your eternal destiny?

There are any number of passages and stories in Scripture that suggest that the answer is yes. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. The words, "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation" in Luke 6:24. That famous verse, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). And "You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24).

The Bible gives us plenty of reasons to say "yes" and yet, a simple yes is not the answer. But neither is a simple "NO," for that too quickly lets us give a sigh of relief and continue to misuse our wealth with a clear conscience.

Riches are dangerous. Riches can and do corrupt us. Riches so easily and often take priority over God, over family, over neighbors - and dictate what is right and wrong, good and bad. Wealth tends to estrange us from the needy (they might want some of our stuff).

Riches in our hands invariably will be tainted by sin. But riches, when touched and blessed by the hand of God, can and do accomplish much good.

Send e-mail to Gary Teske at gteske@tlclawrence.org.

Comments

toefungus 6 years, 5 months ago

Rich is so often defined only in terms of money. Perhaps there are other riches. Family, friends, faith. Anything we own, owns us.

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i_tching 6 years, 5 months ago

There is NO evidence that there was ever such a gate at Jerusalem, and the phrase itself probably results from a mistranslation of the word for "rope" as "camel."

http://www.angelfire.com/wy/Franklin4YAHWEH/camelthroughneedle.html

Since it basically requires followers of Christ to maintain poverty, it must be spun out of recognition, of course. Mick is just parroting only one example of the hypocrisy, avarice, and delusion that characterizes modern Christianity.

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mick 6 years, 5 months ago

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven." An "eye of the needle" was a place in Jerusalem's wall which was so low that a man would have to crouch to get through it, so imagine the difficulty with a camel. It implies abasement. The danger with wealth is not with the riches per se but with what it does to a person's ego. When a person loses their humility they lose an awful lot.

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coneflower 6 years, 5 months ago

I guess whether riches are sinful would depend on how those riches were gotten.

Reference Deciphera elsewhere in this newspaper.

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Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

I thought Jesus said one could NOT serve God and riches. Make up your mind.

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Marion Lynn 6 years, 5 months ago

Wow!

Like, how profound!

Yeah, right.

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canyon_wren 6 years, 5 months ago

Good responses to that question this week, too!

I am often bothered by the preoccupation some "men of the cloth" have with material things. If I were a minister, I would not be able to enjoy a really high standard of living, knowing that so many of my congregation (especially the elderly) were living on very limited means--not to mention others in need outside the congregation. Having moved a lot, I have attended many different churches, and have known several ministers/pastors who were overly focused on material things. One in particular talked far more often about his Porsche than he did about Jesus.

The Scriptures quoted above really make it clear as to how we should view our (comparative) wealth, and I think that the Spirit will guide us in our use of it and move our focus away from preoccupation with acquiring and hoarding our material riches toward a desire to use our blessings for a wider purpose.

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