Sermon on the Mount – Chapter 6 – Wealth and Anxiety

The end of chapter 6 offers an extended reflection on how the faithful should regard material possessions. I always read these verses slowly, forgetting for a moment the centuries the separate Jesus' time from my own and letting loose at least briefly my always-present concern about context, context, context. Jesus addresses here a timeless tension between having and needing and speaks right to the heart of the anxiety that governs so much of human life. 

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." 

Let that sink in for a minute. Stings a little, doesn't it? 

"You cannot serve God and wealth."

The fifth-century theologian Augustine made a helpful distinction between things we love for their own sake and things we use for the sake of some other end. It was the difference between use (uti) and enjoyment (frui). God has given us wealth, he insisted, for our use, so that we might provide for our needs and the needs of others. It is not an end in itself. It is not a thing to enjoy or to love for itself. Wealth is for our use; God is for our enjoyment. We cannot serve both God and wealth and so, to paraphrase Jesus, Augustine might say "use wealth and serve God." 

But that is easier said than done. We feel anxious, sense that our lives are dependent and fragile. We seek security, and wealth seems to offer a hedge against our fears. Trusting God is a lot harder than trusting the balance of our retirement plans. But Jesus says "consider the lilies." Jesus assures us that if we seek the reign of God, our material needs will take care of themselves (v. 33). We know that it doesn't always work out like that. We know that some people do not have enough and that we could end up in dire circumstances if we do not plan carefully for our future. But before we rush in with a million caveats and qualifications, let's sit for a minute with Jesus' message to those of us who do have what we need, but who constantly fear that we do not. He speaks to our fears that we can never have enough, that we will never be secure. He does not tell us that we do not need material goods, he tells us to trust in the bounty of God. 

I remember heading off to college and worrying about my chosen major. I would study theology. I loved it. I loved the ideas, the arguments, the old, old texts. But what on earth would I do with it? How would I make a living? My Dad said, "Kendra, making meaning is a lot harder than making money." I'm still floored by that. He set me free to seek meaning, to seek a Good Life and not worry about "the good life." We live in a world that urges us to seek "more and more." But Jesus (and Dad!) says, "enough." 

"Strive first for the kingdom of God," and your material needs will fall into place. It's an intriguing proposition that some have turned into a "prosperity gospel." Blech. Maybe Jesus meant something else. Maybe he spoke to the whole community of faith. Consider this: if those of us with plenty sought the reign of God, then wouldn't everyone have enough? 

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One response to “Sermon on the Mount – Chapter 6 – Wealth and Anxiety

  1. fred-happy

    What I think about money was formed by wonderful gifts given me by my Mother and my Father’s Father. Neither used words, I watched and learned. My Mother was born in 1920 and grew up during the Depression. She got her first teaching job in 1938. What I noticed as I grew up was her generosity. If she had it and someone needed it, she gave it away. Casseroles in times of trouble, care packages for students in college away from home, cards and sometimes presents on holidays and birthdays, hospitality for visiting preachers. My world has never been a scary place. My first mother-in law also grew up in the Depression and passed on a sense of scarcity to her daughter. Sara’s parents delayed marriage for several years because they did not have enough money to start out. Papaw had a small track of land he farmed with mules for the plowing, hauling, planting and picking corn. No running water or electricity until after I went away to college. Oil fueled heater in the center of the house, wood-burning cook stove. The radio was battery powered. They raised three children and two grandchildren on that farm. PIcked mushrooms in the spring, fished in the summer, hunted squirrels in the fall, farmed year round. Use it up, wear it out, make do. What I saw there was Enough. "We have Enough because Enough is what we have."Money seems to be piling up since I retired because I already have more stuff than I expect to use up in this life. So money is a problem today because I need to decide what to do with it.

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