by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The Narrative Lectionary Readings for Sunday, March 10, 2013:
Optional reading: Psalm 41:1-3 or 41:1
The story of Lazarus and the rich man has been used as a cautionary tale in so many wrong ways throughout the centuries. Some of us read that story and hear that if we have great wealth in this life, we'll be punished in the next. Some read it and say, "Well, it must be better to be poor."
The Bible is quite clear, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, that wealth is not intrinsically evil. Simply having wealth is not enough to send us to damnation. But wealth does come with dangers.
I have a friend who comes out of a Charismatic Catholic tradition, and I said to her that I thought that having wealth was spiritually dangerous. She gave me a look of disbelief, as if I had suggested that we reinstitute virgin sacrifices. But the Bible backs up my belief.
If we have wealth, the danger is that we will love our money more than we love our families, more than we love strangers, more than we love God. Think about how the parable of the Prodigal Son would be different if the father had loved his money more than his lost sons.
We see people who can't leave their wealth to follow Jesus--think about the rich young man who has kept all the laws and expects to be congratulated. Instead, Jesus tells him to give away all that he owns and to join the disciples. The young man can't do it. His wealth keeps him from God.
We here in the first world should pay close attention to this lesson. We have so much that would seem miraculous in developing nations: clean water that flows with the turn of a tap, electricity that we can count on, a steady supply of food. Many of us operate out of such a scarcity consciousness that we can't share.
And it would take so little money to make such a difference. Ethicist Peter Singer encourages those of us in the first world to give away 1% of our wealth to developing nations, where a dollar will create so much more transformation than that same dollar would in the first world.
You don't need me to tell you the value of sharing your wealth. You've had centuries of prophets who extol us all to share our wealth. Are you like the rich man, who will not hear until it's too late? Are you like his brothers, who wouldn't even believe a man returned from the dead?