The Gospel for Sunday, November 9, 2014:
This week we get the story of the man who built bigger structures to hold his grain and goods. If we rewrote this Gospel to use modern images, what might we use?
Let me try: Once there was a worker who got to teach extra classes when the local community college had a surge in enrollment. The worker also got a bonus at work along with a raise, while the cost for health insurance went down. Thus, at the end of the year, the worker had extra money in the bank, and because of historic stock market gains, the worker's retirement account was higher than ever. The worker had lived in the same house for twenty years, so the worker had managed to retain some equity in the house.
The worker decided to consolidate all of the extra money into the retirement account with the best return. The worker went to bed saying, "At this rate, I can retire 7 years early. Maybe I'll really luck out, and if I'm careful, I could retire in 14 years and get a few more years of retirement in addition to that 7. I'm very fortunate."
But that very night, the worker died and because the worker had no will, the money was tied up in the courts for 14 years, and eventually, all the profits went to court costs and other mysterious fees.
Here's another way of looking at that parable. What does our family budget say about who we trust to take care of us?
Another way of asking the same question: if we really trusted that God would provide everything we needed, how would our behavior change?
In these stewardship days, we may hear that old-fashioned term, tithing. I wonder if tithing is an outmoded concept--not that it's not important, but it could be expressed in ways that are more meaningful.
Would we give more money if we understood exactly what our money was buying? If we translated every restaurant meal into a mosquito net, would we give more?
Or, if we understood some of our spending as truly discretionary (nobody needs beer; I could get all my books from the library and do away with my book budget), would we give more to our church?
In Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (a book I highly recommend), Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat have this interesting approach to charitable giving: "One guidepost we work with is that if we ever find in a given year that we have invested more in our won future by way of retirement savings than we have given away for someone else's present need, there is something terribly wrong. We tend to think the ratio should be at least two to one: for every dollar we invest in retirement savings, two dollars should be given away to an agency that will serve the poor" (page 189).
While I essentially agree with them, I am not there yet, and may not ever meet them there. But maybe I should begin with a smaller goal: match my retirement savings with my church/charitable/social justice giving.
Walsh and Keesmaat remind us, "We can probably tell as much about the real spirituality and the real worldview of a people by looking at the cars they drive, the food they consume, the gadgets that fill their homes and the garbage they throw out as we can by listening to the songs they sing and the prayers they pray" (page 199).
What does your spending say about you and your values?