Is it OK for Christians to be rich?

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Stacks of Benjamins

Wealthy folks have told me they reject Christianity categorically because it's a religion for poor people. The gospel, however, is for "all the world," including every zip code. The task for rich Christians is to make sure that the distance between zip codes isn't so vast that the wealthy forget their commitments to the disadvantaged.

The suspicion that the well-to-do aren't welcome among the people of God doesn't come from the Old Testament. In biblical theology prosperity was a key way Israel's God was understood to demonstrate who the righteous were. Even within the ancient "prosperity gospel," however, was an admonition to care for the stranger, widow, and orphan—those most at risk in society. Practices like gleaning leftovers in the fields, community-wide festival days, and jubilee remittance of debts were ways Hebrew society provided for all its members and sought to restore the balance when the gap between haves and have-nots became too wide.

The writing prophets of the 9th through 5th centuries B.C. were very vocal about the plight of the poor and the responsibility of the rich precisely because this balance had not been maintained. The wider the chasm between a society's privileged and needy classes, the louder the prophetic call for justice became.

Jesus does come among us as a poor man without property or high station. Through him God chooses to identify with the vulnerable who also have no place to lay their heads at night. The Gospel of Luke is particularly strident in its reprimands to the wealthy class—an indication that "Theophilus," to whom this gospel is addressed, is a well-heeled Greek or representative of a community of Greeks for whom the urgent call to establish justice is especially appropriate. Stories like that of the rich man who came to Jesus and went away sad; of Zacchaeus who actively cheated his neighbors; or that of the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus to his peril, were alarms intended for Luke's target audience. None of these stories condemn the reality of wealth, but all compel the listener to make better choices.

It's the love of money, not proximity to it, that's defined as the root of all evil. In this sense the poor are just as likely to fall into the idolatry of money as the rich are. If "in God we trust" is really your motto, giving some coins away won't hurt.

Proverbs 29:7, 14; 30:7-9; Sirach 4:1-10; 13:23; 27:1-3; 34:21-22; Amos 6:1-11; Luke 21:1-4; 1 Corinthians 11:18-29; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; James 2:1-13; 5:1-6

Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

The Moral Measure of the Economy by Chuck Collins and Mary Wright (Orbis Books)
All They Want Is My Money? Tips for Stewardship
by Patricia Rice (Liguori Publications)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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