chair for sale, image by Tmag, on Pixabay
Amos Gives Financial Advice
From the pulpit last Sunday I heard the classic tale of the rich man asking about heaven.
As usual, Jesus was unreasonable. “Sell everything and give it to the poor” (Mark 10:21).
I thought, “The rich guy is toast. He’s too attached to his stuff. No wonder he walked away.”
But, of course, Jesus wasn’t just talking to the rich man, he was also speaking to me and you. Raise your hand if you went home from church and had a giant garage sale to get rid of your stuff. Anyone? Anyone? Nobody?
If you are like me, you downplay the Savior’s advice. Jesus was using hyperbole. We rationalize our own inaction. We aren’t really that rich. We look for wiggle room. Does “everything” include the Lexus? So, who are the people Christ is addressing?
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, a person in the top 20 percent of households earns 14 times more than someone in the bottom 20 percent. A person in the top 10 percent of wage earners is paid 39 times more than someone in the bottom 90 percent. These figures lead me to suspect Jesus isn’t just talking to the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos. He is speaking to us.
Amos weighed in on the issue and didn’t leave any wiggle room. Listen to what the prophet said to those of us who try to hang on to our money. “So seek God and live! You don’t want to end up with nothing to show for your life but a pile of ashes, a house burned to the ground” (from Amos 5:6, The Message).
Amos served God at a time of peace and prosperity in Israel. The rich were getting richer. But it was also a time of corruption, and exploitation of the powerless and the poor, to the benefit of the wealthy. Amos was proud of that fact that he was a fig farmer and a shepherd before being called. “I am not a prophet nor a son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14). He wasn’t one of those professional prophets who sold their services to the wealthy in exchange for favors. But there is more to his message than that.
Listen to Amos again. “People hate this kind of talk. Raw truth is never popular. But here it is, bluntly spoken: Because you run roughshod over the poor and take the bread right out of their mouths, you’re never going to move into the luxury homes you have built. You’re never going to drink wine from the expensive vineyards you’ve planted” (Amos 5:10-11, The Message). The prophet isn’t talking about just our possessions. Amos is speaking about justice.
If our wealth comes at the cost of putting others into poverty, we are not serving God. That’s why later he writes, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). Martin Luther King, Jr., echoed Amos’s call in his “I Have a Dream” speech. King said, “…we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” That creates an even greater challenge for us as Christians. Giving away all that we have seems like a piece of cake compared to being
an instrument of God’s justice in the world. So, what can we do?
Try this: inventory your riches.
List your physical possessions.
What stuff could you do without? What would be the last possessions you’d sell?
Next, list what brings joy to your life that can’t be bought with a credit card.
Weigh the items on your two lists.
You might also investigate the causes of the rich/poor gap. No, really, I mean it. Go online. Ask your friends. Find out how people are taxed. Do the benefits you enjoy from current laws come at the price of others? Consider how people are compensated for their labors.
Is it just? How might it be changed? What can you and I do to facilitate that change?
And there it is. We can walk away like the rich man who approached Jesus. Or we can become agents of change. Use our resources to eradicate poverty, and use our voices to bring justice to the world. Tough call.
“Last summer, while flash floods raged through New England and record temperatures
blistered the Southwest, Iowa was blessed with rejuvenating rain that ended a summer drought. My garden loved it. Now the first frost has come. I’ve harvested the last tomatoes and pickled the fall beets. All that’s left is to pull onions and turn over the soil for winter.
Still I make time to write. How can I not? The words define me, not the fresh produce I set on my table.”
Paul Lewellan retired from education after fifty years of teaching. He lives, writes,
and gardens on the banks of the Mississippi River. His muse is his wife of forty-two
years, Pamela. His co-author is an 18-year-old Shih Tzu named Mannie. Paul has
recently published fiction in As Surely As the Sun, Brown Bag, Clayjar, October Hill,
and Solid Food Press. Find more of his work at www.paullewellan.com
(December 2023 issue)