The truth of the gospels is not news. But it is good news, if you follow my meaning.
With its exhaustive record of humankind’s relation to the Almighty, the Bible makes plain that God is all about juxtapositions and contradictions—right up through the New Testament, when we see Jesus born in Bethlehem of Judea. He’s not much of a kingly king, if we’re honest with ourselves, and he spends his 30-some years seeking to enlighten sinners instead of saints. Visions of kingship are tainted by civil protocols and Old Testament histories. This new convenant business makes no sense at all.
The point is, my friends, it shouldn’t. I wouldn’t be the first to tell you about a seemingly backwards theology which boasts a preferential treatment of the dejected in our society. But while you (and I) claim to know all about this preference, we hardly incorporate it into our worldview.
It is one thing, I have found, to sit in a pew and soak in a sermon affirming universal salvation—down to the dregs of our world. It is one thing to advocate for social justice and the care of those forgotten in our communities. But it is quite another to see these things at work within us.
I hate to say it, but money claims a strong hold on our lives. All too often it dictates where we go, what we do, how we utilize our gifts, and, to some extent, what we think of ourselves. Which is why, when money becomes tight, life becomes desperate.
Now there are two ways to look at this desperation. We can fully buy into the absolute domination of “things” in our life and the necessity of the almighty dollar, or we can take a step back and recognize that these “things” are but tools which facilitate a certain kind of physical living in the present. Jesus made no bones about it: You cannot serve God and mammon.
Which means what exactly? Suppose you are struggling to make ends meet—you’re scraping pennies together to make the rent payment on time. Jesus—of all people—would hardly claim that a roof over one’s head is a luxury. Right?
Wrong. Jesus does not claim that a physical human being doesn’t require basic necessities to survive. But there is a matter of trust to be had here—and it goes beyond the confines of what we recognize as fruitful living. To many of us, the basics of life are safe, clean housing, a job, food, internet, water, electricity, etc. What we fail to realize is that these “necessities” are ordained by culture. Jesus challenges us: Rethink the norm. When you convince yourself that certain “things” are necessary for living, and that these “things” are only ever acquired and secured by money, then you have taken up a pretty strong friendship with mammon.
Jesus calls us to a different sort of devotion. Quite simply, it’s a devotion of faith: give over not only your “things” to God, but also your trust. Lean on God. In our world, it is all too easy to escape the fundamental understanding of God as our Creator and lifeblood. We vie for control, we lust for power, we crave, and we hoard. This is who we are. But it is not who we have to be.
The parable of the birds found in the New Testament is cliché, but retold year after year in the church for a very important reason. Jesus—consummate with God—is not asking us to give over SOME of our “things.” He is not making a suggestion or offering a trial period for something that might be, at some time, suitable to us. Jesus is saying we cannot be who we are fully made to be unless and until we give up our death grip on “things.” Mammon must go.
In those moments when money is tight and stress is high, when we feel our hold on life slipping away and we cannot seem to muster what we need to get by … these are times more blessing than curse. These are opportunities to return to our foundation and our faith, acknowledging with humility that the next day and the day after will play out according to God’s will—not ours. When we can finally learn to let go, new paths emerge in our lives. We are fulfilled in ways never considered before. And we are more ourselves—more who we were made to be—than ever.
Do not be fooled: These are times when faith is tried and trust is most difficult. Your physical world my turn upside down and your ideals fade into imagination. But you will be given everything you need for happiness, for the pursuit of truth, to sustain you. Only open your eyes, your heart, and your mind … and learn to lean forever on God. As we profess in every Shabbat, service, mass, and worship—God’s will be done. And it will be good.