“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.”
Financial wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. If we look at the ministry of Jesus, we know that instead a lot of poor people are blessed by God. We know this to be true in the history of the church, from St. Francis who got rid of all his possessions to better serve God, to George MacDonald, who served in mission from gift to gift. . Wealth is simply not an indication of God’s favor.
Still, no one is immune from the desire for wealth and all that it represents. Comfort. Power. Recognition. No matter how much we have, we always find someone with more, with something we lack and focus on how different it would be for us to have what he or she has. There are some who take advantage of this desire and try to pedal the Gospel as a kind of model for success.
While we become obsessed with the differences between rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, the Bible focuses us on what we share in common. Proverbs 22.2 says “The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.”
Each of us, no matter what we have, is on equal footing. We are all creatures of God who made us. Though we may see a big difference between, say, King Solomon and the beggars who hung around the temple or between Donald Trump and a migrant worker, in the kingly rule of God ultimately there will be a leveling off. To live in a world that values wealth with the belief that all of us are creatures of God, no matter what we have, is to challenge the way things are.
The letter of James reminds us how those of us too worldly often play favorites. We would much rather make room for the rich, than welcome the poor. James 2.5 calls out to us, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith?” Didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the kingdom”?This idea pushes us even further away from an attitude of favoring the rich. Not only are the rich and poor on equal footing as creatures of God, but God has special plans for the poor. In the kingdom of God, the tables are turned. The poor become those who are favored, those who enjoy the blessings they has been previously been denied. If we fall into the trap of favoring the rich over the poor, of valuing wealth, and looking down on poverty, we are, as James puts it, “dishonoring the poor.” More than this we are working against the kingdom of God.
The generous heart recognizes not so much the difference between the rich and poor, but sees the image of God in all people. The wealth of the Gospel is an endless supply, the more we give, the more we receive. In the economics of the Gospel, when we share what we have, we receive all we need and more to share. Jesus models this for us. He gave all that he had. He gave his whole life that we might live. And the strange truth that holds our faith together is that in giving up his life for others, he found new life, not just for himself, but for everybody. For all creation. The wealth of the Gospel keeps us from playing favorites and calls us to give what we have that others might receive and that we all might share God’s blessing.