Commentary on the Gospel of

David Crawford - Creighton University's Reinert Alumni Library

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for loving and serving mammon, or material wealth, and the Pharisees respond with a sneer.  (The Message translation says they “rolled their eyes, dismissing Him as hopelessly out of touch.”)  It would be easy to caricature the Pharisees as money-grubbing villains who intentionally put wealth above faith, but that may not be fair or accurate.  I doubt it would have occurred to the Pharisees – a group known to be devout adherents to Jewish laws and tradition – that their view of money was inconsistent with their faith. 

For that matter, I don’t think that the Pharisees thought they loved or served material wealth.  I do think it likely they had embraced a mindset that prioritized financial gain, personal comfort and/or social status when making decisions, so economic considerations were their default.  If they ever questioned how decisions aligned with religion, they saw no conflict.  Perhaps some justified their emphasis on getting more wealth with the thought that this will allow them to do more good.  Possibly others viewed material gain as a sign that God had rewarded them for proper behavior.  Maybe a few felt the trappings of success were a testament to righteous living that would encourage others to do likewise.  We can speculate on what they may have thought and why, but what we know is that Jesus chastised them for pursuing earthly rewards.

I suspect their attitude was not too different from that of the rest of their society – or ours.  Isn’t it reasonable for employers to seek maximum profits, for workers to pursue better-paying jobs, and for consumers to get the most out of their spending dollars?  Maybe, in some instances, but Jesus indicates this should not be the first question or our default position.  As I look back at some major and minor decisions in my life, I realize how quickly economic considerations took the lead.  If we are in the Pharisees’ place – and I hate to tell you, but we probably are to some extent – would we roll our eyes and dismiss Jesus as hopelessly out of touch?  How would we respond if Jesus told us we could not serve God and productivity, or fitness, or leisure, or any number of things that tempt or distract us?

In today’s reading from the epistle, we see Paul praising the Philippians for supporting him and his ministry.  The writer of the Psalms lauds the man who uses his money to help others by lending graciously and giving lavishly to the poor.  And at the start of today’s section from Luke, Jesus instructs his disciples to use material resources they acquire to advance the work of God (which is how the Amplified translation treats verse 9).  Each of these illustrates the importance of using our gifts – which come from God in the first place – in service to God.  As such, they remind us to align our stewardship with God’s work.

While working on this reflection, I found some inspiration in my Sunday evening Bible study, which this past week looked at I Timothy 6, which also warns how the temptation of pursuing riches leads some away from the faith and towards ruin and destruction.  A few verses later, Paul offers Timothy sound advice, which I’ve adapted for a short prayer:

Lord, keep us from pride.  Let us rely on you, not wealth, because you provide all we need.  Let us do good.  Let us be rich in good works, generous, ready to share.  Keep us on the path to true life found only in you. Amen.

Comments

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on 7/11/20

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