A 91 year old man, estimated to have a fortune of 2.5 billion pounds, is going through the courts arguing that he hasn’t hidden 400 million pounds from the tax man. Unfortunately the court seems to have proof of a bank account he hasn’t declared and in it there’s 650 million dollars. Oops. He probably forgot – a mistake anyone could make.
But whether it was deliberate or not – he’s 91, for heaven’s sake! Hasn’t he got better things to do? Hasn’t his long, long life taught him anything at all? Whether he owes it or not, why doesn’t he reach into his copious back pocket and just hand the dosh over, knowing it will do more good in circulation, keeping the infrastructure going, than it will ever do in some electronic virtual safe? Doesn’t he realise that he’ll be moving on soon, to a place where money and possessions have no value at all?
Why waste what little time he has left in arguments and travelling to court, and sitting through the boring ritual of law, and fretting about who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong? Give it up, geezer! Hand it over. Get on with your life, pour a nice crisp chardonnay, or sit on a hillside and watch the clouds, or float in a sparkling pool (he must have dozens of those!) or give away a thousand houses, or build a hundred hospitals or something. Go on! Life offers more than money. Give yourself a treat, for pity’s sake. Hug a child, kick a football. Sink some fresh water wells in Africa. Want a list? I can send you one.
Doesn’t he know that ‘the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ ?
Not money itself, but the love of it. The desire to have more. To keep what we have to ourselves. To steal and cheat and scheme to get more, regardless of the poverty all around us. To hoard it and gloat over it, so that it masters us. To have wealth and success as the focus of our life, instead of God. When money can do so much good, what a sin to leave it tucked in a purse and hidden away.
Hey, talking about money…. there’s a man locally who runs a very successful building company. He is the one person in the world for whom the word ‘bombastic’ was coined. He overflows with delight at his own wealth, not at all reticent about telling everyone what a great profit he turns. The other day a newcomer in the village was asking about local builders and at the end of the list, as a sort of after-thought, they were told “And if you’re really stuck and can afford him, there’s always Trifle.” Apparently that’s this guy’s nickname. I wondered why ….. “Because he’s always going on about his hundreds and thousands.”
Wealth and success, eh? That’s what the world values. So seductive.
I listened to two speakers this weekend and in each message I heard something that really caught my attention. And both said the same thing in different ways. Here in Wales it was a sermon about giving up everything we have to follow Jesus, a message given by a self-confessing ‘Jesus freak’ and one-time Californian hippy, who did indeed give up everything to follow Jesus many years ago. The second came from halfway across the world, in an on-line video about discipling, and it’s interesting that both these blokes spoke about the importance of following Jesus and only him, of shedding the burdens of the world and surging ahead, travelling light. Let me tell you about the discipling video – and here I’m shamelessly plagiarising, jotting down what was said, verbatim and italicised:
Luke Chapter 9:62
Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’
Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’
‘No one who puts their hand to the plough’ There’s a reference here to the Old Testament story of Elisha, who was called – like disciples are called – to follow. And when he was called, he was ploughing a field with 12 teams of oxen. So, he’s a very wealthy man. But he understands what the call to follow means and he obeys it. He burns all his equipment, sacrifices his oxen, throws a big feast for his family and friends and then leaves. And he cannot come back to that farming life. He’s put that life behind him.
What does this mean? Well, when we’re called into the Kingdom of God it’s a journey in one direction. It’s a lifelong call to the pursuit of being a disciple.
I loved hearing that clarity, that truth. Wow! I love the simplicity. The past gone, the future Christ. A journey in one direction, no turning back, no turning back.
It reminded me of the account of Lot and his wife. That’s always struck me as harsh, or as the kids would say now, ‘random’. She looks back and she’s turned to salt? That’s a bit heavy handed, isn’t it? I mean, she just turned for a final look…. anyone might do the same. But now, thinking about the burnt plough and the sacrificed oxen, I get it; she turned back, towards Sodom, she wasn’t single-minded. It was more than a look, it was a clinging to the godless, Sodom, a place of sin and evil, distracted her from her walk of obedience.
And then, of course, of course, I remembered the very respectable and well behaved rich young man in Matthew 19 who asked Jesus what he must do to get eternal life, Jesus told him
“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.“
From the Old Testament to the New, the message is clear and getting clearer. We were made to follow. The more I read the Bible, the more I realise that the deeper I go, the deeper I go, and I’ll never get to the very deepest. But it’s jolly good fun trying.