A family had left a church where I served previously, yet the husband and I were meeting regularly for discipleship. I asked him why they had left and he shared that it was because he felt I was too negative about money and wealth. “I work hard for what I have and I won’t feel guilty about it,” he shared. I appreciated his candor because it made me take a serious look at whether I really was hard on the wealthy and if so, why that was. I decided that he was probably right.
Throughout my life I’ve had a very difficult relationship with wealth. I grew up a privileged white male in a wealthy suburb of Detroit. I had wealthy friends, attended a wealthy church, and lived a wealthy life. My difficulty with wealth was not covetousness of others’ wealth, nor was it guilt about what I had. It came directly from scripture.
Now, if the image you have of my childhood includes new cars, a mansion, membership at the golf club, and fancy clothes, you may want to reassess your definition of “wealthy”. We lived on a teacher’s salary (my mom didn’t work while we were kids, going back only to help put my sister and me through college) and bought generally used cars. We lived in a 3 bedroom house, camped on our vacations out of necessity, seldom if ever went out to eat, and wore modest or even hand-me-down clothes. But we were wealthy.
As a youth pastor in Rochester, MN, I used a “global wealth calculator” which ranks your salary level relative to the rest of the world. With just that salary, our family was in the top 6/10 of a percent of the world’s population. Even there, making less than my father did after a career in teaching, we were wealthy.
Today Jesus puts we who are wealthy, whether we admit it or not, in our place. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of God.” Jesus commands this wealthy young man, who has lived an obedient, righteous life thus far, to give up everything and follow Jesus. Not to “be willing to” give it up, and not to give it up metaphorically. Jesus knows how wealth draws us away from God, and so He says get rid of the baggage.
I don’t know if I’m there yet in my walk with God. Are you?