Well…in short, yes. You are screwed. Read the Bible, it is a hard and bitter pill to swallow. We will get back to that…let me start with how I got here.
I grew up in south Orange County California (OC), in one of the wealthiest places in the United States. I lived there all my life. We didn’t live in the wealthiest community but I didn’t care. We had luxuries unheard of. Our home was large, we had cars. In fact, I got a brand new Jeep Cherokee on my 16th birthday. My parents picked me up at school with it and a group of friends and I got to drive it to Palm Springs where we vacationed for the weekend. I spent money without regard. I had a credit card through high school that I regularly maxed out. I ate where I wanted, I was especially fond of foodie food before it was called foodie food. Even though all that childhood wealth came to a crashing halt when I was around 19, I didn’t experience that great a fall, so to speak.
I went to college and got a MA at UCI in a rather useless field that I loved. I didn’t expect I would ever need it. I married and we continued to live in OC. We moved to Mission Viejo and continued a life of ease and luxury. We lived in a large home and vacationed often. I even thought it smart to get a JD at an expensive school (all law schools are expensive, some more than others). I got our family into major major debt (think of a house) without one iota of thought about what that might mean.
Don’t get me wrong. Our world was never sunshine and joy and love and greatness because we had money. In fact, my marriage was the very worst at the time we were making the very most. My children were out of control running around with minimal supervision. Things were oh so good, and oh so wretched. Until one day….I lost my job as an attorney and we moved to Vista, Ca.
Skip ahead 4 years…
We go up to meet my husband’s parents in Newport Beach, a spot I adored years ago, and I was horrified. [To be fair, my husband’s parents are not from the OC and were paying for this meal and were doing something of incredible kindness to their son and his family. Every moment with them was wonderful. This isn’t about time with them. Time with them would be great if we had a picnic on the beach. On with the story. ] We get out of our car to go to the MOST EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT EVER, and I immediately am uncomfortable, down to my bones. First, everyone is white as the driven snow, except the wait staff and the valet. Then, my kids are drooling over the displays of extravagant wealth. Women are carrying $3000 purses and they all look exactly alike. You know the OC routine…fake boobs, maxi dresses, bleach blonde hair, faces botoxed and taught. I was twitching before we even got into the place. We ate food that in our neighborhood would have been equally as good and cost 1/5 of the price. Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe what was happening. Then, we leave the restaurant and my kids point out a car that my husband tells me costs 1.6 million Euros. Really? OMG…as if that isn’t bad, my son starts pointing out Porsches. He says the word “Porsche” (said Porsh) so many times I have to ban the word from our car. Barf Barf Barf. I knew, I just knew what Jesus was talking about and why.
So what is Jesus talking about? He says some rather tough things about money. Some of the more poignant Bible verses are “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Or…how about the one where a rich man asks how to get into heaven, the end is, sell all you have and follow me. Yikes, hard news for the rich. Or, what about it will be easier for a camel to get through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Jesus wasn’t too fond of being rich or striving for riches. He could have given all the poor money. He could have multiplied the coins in his pouch instead of multiply fish and bread but he didn’t. He didn’t give out money and make the poor wealthy. Why not? Why does Jesus have this stance against money? To be honest, it isn’t just Jesus who has this stance. Check out the Buddha, too. He gave up being a prince to roam the country with nothing but his robe and a bowl.
Anyhow, the question is why? and then the next one…Do these Bible verses really apply? Was Jesus serious? Serious as a heart attack. This just isn’t about money, folks. This is about your heart, your soul, your salvation.
The problem, I don’t think, is the money…however, I am less than convinced that you can get around its strong tendrils. The reason is this…
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
How does this scripture apply to money? It is everything about money. You see the problem is that when we get money, we have lots of problems that aren’t about being naked and hungry and in prison and thirsty. We have greater issues and these “lesser” issues shrink to the back of our minds. We get a sense that what we have, we deserve. After all, we worked hard for our food and shelter.
- Money creates a divide between us and others. We are, at once, superior to those who have little. Even if we logically don’t think this is the case, it is virtually impossible to escape the sense that we have what we deserve and those that have little must deserve that also.
- Money engenders a less compassionate state. Not only do we deserve what we have and those with less deserve their portion but we then are justified in not helping them. We create all sorts of excuses. We are too busy. We still don’t have “enough”. We want to be the ones to write the check and we aren’t there yet. If we give the homeless man money, he will just buy alcohol with it. Those excuses are just excuses. The real problem is that we have forgotten the Bible verse above. What you do to the least of these you do to our Lord.
- When we have money, we spend more money. We spend our money on ridiculous things like $100,000 cars and plastic surgery and getting our 5 year olds toes painted with American flags. The more money we have, the more money we spend on ourselves. When the rich man asked how he could get into heaven and Jesus responded to sell everything and follow Him, that may not be so bad. If you were wealthy and lived in a mobile home and spent every nickel helping the least of these. You are a good steward. But really, how often does that happen?…never. Instead we exacerbate the growing income inequality gap with our love of stuff. We have stuff coming out our ears.
- Money becomes our God. We don’t want it to happen, we never do. We think that we can overcome this. Or, that when we get money we will somehow be immune to its trappings, unlike almost everyone else with money. What about where your treasure is, there your heart is also or “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Somehow, those problems you have when you are rich push God right out of the equation. The more money you have, the less you need our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am not saying I have this thing down. Nobody does. We are all in a process of becoming….a process of learning at-one-ment. (atonement) However, I think we have to be reminded that these scriptures apply. They apply to you and me and everyone. They are universal. They span times and religions. When you read them as if they have an asterisk next to them…and then you go to the footnote and it says…oh yeah, Rachael is excluded…you miss the very point.
Let me end this lengthy tome by telling a story. A while back I attended a city council meeting in an extremely wealthy part of town. You see, the state is forcing the cities to have a spot where a homeless shelter can go, by right. On and on it went….folks got up to the podium and listed the reasons why they didn’t want the homeless near them. People even got up and invoked Christianity to say why the homeless should stay away. I suspected, though, that even if not said out loud, most of these people, when queried, would call themselves Christian. All I could think of was, “I wish I lived there, I would ask to have the shelter put next to me. I know it would have problems and it wouldn’t be convenient, and my house value may even be reduced some. But, if I am kind to the least of these, I am kind to Jesus Christ. I don’t care what excuses I have. I want our Lord next to me.” I was ashamed and embarrassed for these people. Then an Episcopal priest had the last word. I cried because he spoke of the least of these and urged the city to do what was morally right. I thought…there you go…that is why I am a Christian…that is why I am an Episcopalian! Amen!