“Rely not on your wealth; say not, ‘I have the power…” (Sirach 5:1). Thus begins an eight verse wisdom treatise on the danger of the sin of presumption. It is a powerful read and a mighty admonition to us who desire to walk in the ways of the Lord. It is a road map for a humble soul.
It is a matter of pride, foolish pride, to think that because I have wealth I have the power to do what I want to do in this world. This foolishness is the product of thinking only in earthly terms. In earthly terms one certainly has power, in the finite, material sense of that word. But it has no power to get one into heaven. It’s power only goes as far as the grave. The powerful medieval Christian morality play “Everyman” reveals truth when the main character Everyman is confronted by the character Death who has come to take him to his reckoning before God. Everyman, who up to the moment Death arrives, has been, “living without dread in worldly prosperity” now desperately tries to bribe Death with his wealth. He attempts to get Death to hold off, to give him more time to get his soul straight with God, saying, “Yet of my good will I give thee, if thou will be kind, Yea, a thousand pound shalt thou have, and defer this matter till another day.” He finds out that all of his money has no power here at all. In the end, the moral lesson of this Christian play is that all we can take with us is our good, or our bad deeds. We are to honor and love God above all things, and we do this by keeping his commandments and by willingly and humbly doing his will. It is in doing his will that we gain heavenly treasure.
Wealth is a false security. We who believe in God, and who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, have been given a wisdom beyond this worldly kind of thinking. In Mark’s Gospel, in his 10th chapter we see the rich young man who anxiously comes before Jesus asking him this question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (verse 17) Jesus responds with a recitation of the commandments associated with love of neighbor and the young man says that he has faithfully observed those things from his youth. Then Jesus looks at him with love and takes it up a notch: “You are lacking then only in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (verse 21). And the young man’s face fell and he walked away sad for he owned a great deal. Jesus tells his disciples then, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God…It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of God” (verses 23&25). This is the wisdom that we are to follow. It is the wisdom that we see in action, in the flesh, in Jesus Christ. He who was rich, gave everything away, even his own life on the cross. If, by the grace of God, we have been given great earthly treasure, we are to give thanks to God by using it not for our good alone, but for the good of others. For it is in serving God first that we find the real and lasting treasures that are worthy of our eternal souls.
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” the character, the Pardoner, a greedy and rapacious priest, goes about selling “relics” and offering confessions and pardons from sins for money. With rapier sharp wit, Chaucer has this hypocrite tell a tale about greed (the love of money and its false sense of power) in which three young drunks go out on the road to find and to kill Death. They encounter an old man walking on the road and treat him shabbily, then ask him if he has seen Death. The old man points a boney finger toward a solitary tree in the middle of a great field. The three go to the tree and find boxes full of gold lying in the open under its leafy crown. They figure, “Finders keepers, losers weepers” and claim it as their own. They decide to celebrate their new found wealth and draw straws to see who will go into town to get some wine and bread for the celebration. The youngest gets the short straw and heads into town. Meanwhile, the other two greedily begin to plot against the younger one so that they can have the treasure all to themselves. They come up with a plan to kill him on his return. But, the young man, wanting the gold all for himself, hatches his own plan. He buys three bottles of wine and some rat poison. He poisons two of the bottles of wine and heads back to the tree and his companions. When he arrives, the other two jump him and kill him, then sit down with the wine to celebrate and are poisoned. In their lust for money and all it supposed promises, these three did not find wealth and security. Rather, they found exactly what they had gone out looking for in their blind and presumptive arrogance—Death. The moral of the tale was this: “Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas.” The root of all evil is greed.” To repeat today’s verse: “Do not rely on your wealth; or say, ‘I have the power.’” As Christians we are to rely on God alone.
Lord, help us to see that wealth is only means to a greater end, not an end in and of itself. Give us the wisdom to desire not wealth for its own sake, but to desire only that treasure that comes to us for loving you, and our neighbor as ourselves; with our whole hearts, our whole soul, and our whole strength. Let us seek for our treasure in you alone. We pray these things in the power of Jesus’ name. Amen!
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