New Yorkers are often described as direct and open in sharing personal things about their lives. I have found that to be the case in almost every area but one, money. People aren’t shy about spending money in New York, but most put up a “do not disturb” sign when it comes to inquiries about personal finances. In fact, now that you know this article is about money you, no doubt, are already a bit more guarded or defensive than if it was about prayer.
Why? Money has a spiritual power over our lives, which is why there are 500 verses on prayer and more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions. God knows our hearts and seeks to disturb them when they are settled on the wrong things.
For example, the Bible defines “wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners” as a “grievous evil” (Ecclesiastes 5:13). In other words, we are blind to the destructive “evil” of our own hoarding which is why Jesus warns us to “be on guard against all kinds of greed” (Luke 12:15). Phyllis Tickle affirms the Bible’s wisdom by defining greed as a “sin we see readily in others but rarely acknowledge as our own — and therein lies the power.”
Yet when people from other parts of the world come to places like NYC, they are staggered at the material luxuries we consider necessities. A while back there was an article in the Huffington Post written by a woman who had moved to the US from Pakistan. She was shocked by our culture’s “obsessive accumulation of unnecessary products along with the hope that buying a Chanel bag will somehow make you happier.” Be on guard! Money and material comfort have a power to decieve you into believing that the net worth of your identity is tied to the net worth of your balance sheet.
Which is why the antidote to this grievous evil is generosity. Jesus’ well known interaction with a wealthy young man (Mark 10) is a case study in the spiritual danger of hoarded wealth. Jesus asks the man to sell his possessions and give the money away to the poor. The man refuses, leading Jesus to reflect upon how hard it is for those who have material wealth to enter God’s kingdom. Why? Money is a master that demands allegiance in competition with Jesus. It also gets in the way of our appropriation of grace by making us more self-reliant. In addition, it creates a hard-heartedness by keeping us less accountable to others and their needs.
So by asking the man to give all of his money away, Jesus is asking if the man (and by extension, us) is willing to let him have complete control of his money and make him the source of meaning, identity and security. Practically this means that following Jesus means taking down the “do not disturb” sign and opening up with others about your own spending habits. And it means that most of us need to be more intentional about our giving, knowing that the natural tendency of our lives is to spend and save for ourselves.
This models the life of Jesus, who laid aside his riches for our soul, giving up all that was rightfully his and becoming a man “who had nowhere to lay his lead.”(Matthew 8:20)