Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
We have seen recently that Jesus has taught against hypocrisy, in particular with regard to giving of money, praying and fasting. We now move on to a new section of the sermon. Like others, Jesus talks on a number of subjects, and for each subject follows a particular pattern for each point that he makes. This time it is simply a set of comparisons, a showing that one thing is better than another. The start of this section, in my bible, has the heading “Treasure in heaven”, but this title is really only appropriate for the verses of today’s reading. Jesus quickly moves on to other subjects after that.
For me, I find that there are a number of scriptures that would come under a heading such as: most well-known and most ignored. I truly and honestly believe that this is one of them.
This seems especially true in today’s world where there are big-name TV evangelists preaching a prosperity gospel, quoting Luke 6 (out of context) to show that you can’t out-give God and saying things like Jesus became poor so that we can become rich. Brothers and sisters, before us today is one of many texts that puts the lie to the prosperity gospel. Do not be deceived!
We have a direct instruction here not to focus on the creation of wealth and status and the purchase of physical things. We have a number of examples in the gospels where rich people spoke with Jesus, and the ‘one thing they lacked’ was to sell all they own and distribute to the needy. We have the early church in Acts where those who had rich possessions sold it all and no-one among the early church was in need.
Yes, I would agree with the statement that there is nothing in and of itself that is wrong with being a wealthy person, having inheriting wealth, and so on. Nowhere in scripture do we find any text telling us that it is a sin. Ananias and Saphira did not lose their lives because they were rich, but simply because they were telling lies out of hypocrisy. They wanted to look good, pretending that they had sold all and were giving all. But they could simply have been honest and said that they only wanted to give a portion.
But the fact is that, for most countries in the world today, if not all of them, that to be a wealthy person means not only that you will become a rather disgusting comparison with the poor of the world, but also that you will have helped to keep them poor. Yes, you read me correctly. The richest in the world help to keep the rest poor. There is not the time or room in this study to go into the facts and the figures about this, but that is the simple fact.
There are many disgusting facts about wealth and poverty. For instance there are many people in the world actually starving or close to starvation. Yet it is actual fact that 50% of all food produced in the world goes to waste or is deliberately destroyed. There are a number of reasons for this. There is the fact that, often, people at buffets and celebrations will pile far too much food on their own plate, and of course they can’t eat it all. And in the western culture it would be seen as just wrong to eat from someone else’s plate – so this excess just goes in the rubbish bin.
Then there is the food that is high quality, but is taken out to sea in ships and simply dumped overboard. Yes, you read correctly, it is simply thrown away. Why? To help maintain an inflated price point and so keep profit margins higher. In other words, simple greed. Most schoolchildren getting to grips with the reality of the sinfulness of the world for the first time would ask the question that should be on everyone’s lips: why isn’t this food distributed to the hungry and starving instead? It would still create the false rarity and false price point if this was done.
And yet there are reasons for this. Political dogma that has no basis at all in either religious or humanitarian thinking. There are arguments about creating a ‘dependency syndrome’ and also a reluctance to give to the poorest parts of the world because they have the highest birthrate.
Well, to look at that last point first, it is a fact that increased wealth in a nation or region, increased comfort and removal of the risk of starvation, reduces the birth rate! I don’t know why, folks, these are simple and easily provable demographic facts. So it is simply true that, if there is to be a redistribution of the plenty that God has given to the world, the birth rate overall would reduce and the population explosion would also be greatly reduced.
The only reason that I can see for this not being done is that it is ‘bad for business.’
People have come back to me with the argument that Britain has been a wealthy country for hundreds of years, yet in the 18th and 19th centuries the birth rate in Britain was one of the highest in the world. OK, I will not beat around the bush here. Those who want to make Britain (and America for that matter) ‘great’ again need to realise that the greatness of old was built on slavery and child labour. I am not talking only of the slave colonies and plantations. I am talking about within Britain itself. The poor were very poor indeed, and many were working 16 hours each day without being able, as a result, to feed themselves or clothe themselves properly. They even had to watch while their ‘masters’ ate banquets, increasing their already disgustingly fat waistlines, and giving the leftover scraps to the dogs rather than the workers. So showing that their dogs were valued more than the human beings who were helping to create their wealth.
If you visit London and go to the great Victorian train stations of Kings Cross and St Pancras, take a look at the marvellous brick frontages to these places. Then realise that the clay for those bricks was dredged up from Thames valley clay pits by children as young as 4 years. And these were placed in clay moulds by older children, mostly still younger than 12. Then older children still would be responsible for the placement in kilns. The kiln masters (still being paid so lowly wages that I would call them still slaves) would check the kilns, set the fires, and check the kilns again after firing. The bricks that exploded instead of hardening well would result in wage deductions from the children who had placed the clay in the moulds – and they could be identified from the markings on the moulds. But think – these little children were working for as little as one loaf of bread per week. And this in ‘rich’ England!
Even in modern times you would be shocked. I was shocked when a report was leaked which showed that 4 thousand people died of starvation in Britain in 2014 – and then this report was quickly hushed up and vanished. But even more recently than that, people in Britain will not have failed to see the report of a recent speech from our new Prime Minister who wishes to tackle the ‘evil’ of slavery in Britain today. Yes, there are still people working in this kind of poverty trap, in Britain, today. And if this is true in Britain, you can bet that it is true in many other ‘civilised’ countries of the world.
The gruesome and unacceptable truth is this: that for almost anything that you buy today you really do not know if it has been produced, at least in part, as a result of slavery or the workmanship of someone who has since died from starvation. Think about this for a moment. It really is more true than is comfortable for most of us to think about!
But if society were radically different (and I am not promoting communism or anything like that here), if it was based on love and care of each other, then when money is earned, or goods earned in place of money, it could be placed in the care of the church community. The church as a community could then make sure that all are housed, clothed, and have food so that no-one is needy.
This is what we see in Acts. But if you promote it in the modern world, you would be accused of ‘encouraging scroungers’ or of ‘liberal socialism.’
It is an ‘open secret’ that to achieve the ‘American Dream’ means that you will have to tread on the heads and necks of others to reach ‘the top.’ So, with the risk of much flack in my direction, I would simply ask if the American Dream is really compatible with Christianity, and with the attitude to wealth that Jesus gives us today in the passage of scripture that is in front of us.
Some point out that Jesus did quote the Old Testament of love your neighbour as yourself. This is not a reason to be selfish and build up wealth for yourself before you help others who may need your help. It is more to be aware, so that you can say, “My stomach is full, but what of my neighbour? I have a roof over my head, but what of my neighbour? I have clothes that are not rags about to fall off me, what of my neighbour? I am in good health, thank God, but what of my neighbour?”
So, from the start, it is about shared mutual responsibility. And as much as you will help your neighbour not to be hungry, lonely, homeless, naked, unhealthy – as much as you help in all these areas, so will be your wealth in heaven.
I am sometimes mocked that I am homeless and with very little income. And yet I have seen the Lord supply my needs and I have known more blessing and more opportunities to give blessing in this state than ever I had while I was wealthy. God backs up the message of scripture in reality, in my experience. So please, do not ignore this scripture no matter how challenging it may be for you personally.