Wall Street and Jesus

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” – Luke 12:13-21 (NIV)

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.” Now I’m sure those of you who have seen Wall Street with Michael Douglas, who plays Gordon Gekko, know that this is his penultimate statement when talking about how the American society has been corrupted. Greed drives our society. But is greed really good?

In the scripture from Luke we can see that this idea of greed has taken the center stage by way of Jesus’ story of the rich fool. Jesus is encountered by a brother who wants him to tell his brother to spilt the inheritance. The brother is consumed by getting a piece of the inheritance that Jesus feels he has neglected God. Jesus decides instead of helping him to divide the inheritance he will help the brother see that there is more to life than his greed for his families inheritance. Jesus tells the story of a man who seems to have done well for himself. He has had bountiful harvests and has stored up plenty of belongings for himself to enjoy. He has built bigger storehouses and created for himself a surplus of wealth. Now we can infer from this story that this man has allowed his personal wealth and greed for wealth to overcome his spiritual life. Jesus makes it clear that this man has become very self-centered and very greedy towards his belongings. The man says things like “what shall I do with my possessions?… I shall big bigger farms” the man even talks to himself say “eat, drink, and be merry” The man’s greed leads him to a state where he is all about himself nothing else in the world matters to him. The man accumulates this great wealth and focuses on himself. All seems to be going well for the man, at least until something happens. The problem comes in what occurs when the man dies and is brought before the eternal God. In verse 21 we see God enter the picture and say, “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” The man is departing from his earthly home to enter an eternal home, but has done much more preparation for his earthly than his eternal. The man’s greed has encompassed his whole life and he has neglected his spiritual relationship with God.

Gordon Gekko talks highly of greed speaks of greed as if it is the most important thing in our American society. Our society is all about earning all you can and getting as many nice things as you can get your hands on. Material possessions and wealth have become the names of the game in our current society. In fact our consumer society has made it so that a necessary achievement for people is to own a bunch of stuff and have a bunch of money. You earn money and then you spend it on glamorous things. Its what we see in commercials and on TV in general. We see how greed brings out the worst in people. Money leads to wealth, wealth leads to power, and power leads to greed. Once one feels this greed they become destructive. Their life becomes focused on themselves. We focus so much on what we own here on earth and of our destructive greed often times we forget about our heavenly father. I have seen the affects that money have on people. We hear of families winning the lottery and their lives just change forever. They fall into money and they start getting nice things. As they go through life they continue to want nice things. Their want of things destroys their relationships with friends and family. The greed once the money is placed becomes too much for the people to handle. Everyone has this hole in their lives. Now we as Christians fill that hole with God and his love, but often times people think it can be filled with money. So, people work harder and longer and think that the more money they have the better their life will be. People find that their lives are fulfilled enough by the things that they now own due to their wealth. Greedy people always feel the need to have more all the time. And all the time they are thinking about more. Church is nothing more than a place where they can’t make money and make more.

At the end of this passage Jesus brings home his point by telling us that we have a wealth not only through our material possessions on this earth, but also with God. And that the more important relationship is that with God. This wealth with God is not defined by what we have here on earth, but what we have done in his name and the relationship we have formed with our creator. The story leaves us in a rocky place because the man dies with this accumulation of wealth because of his greed and we see that this accumulation of wealth has done nothing for his eternal life. Jesus is talking to these two brothers who are struggling with a division of inheritance, and I think about where they went from there. Jesus obviously did not want to get involved in their argument over who would get what, but he saw this as a teaching opportunity. He could see greed in the brother’s eyes. The fact that he really wanted some of that inheritance and he thought it was going to make his life complete. Jesus even says in verse 15 that “life does not consist of an abundance of possessions.” Greed does not benefit our relationship with God. I see the brother leaving with maybe a sense of being let down, but maybe with a sense that he does not need that inheritance. Jesus shook him in a way that makes him rethink the greed he was holding towards the inheritance. In the story we see the man who built up his wealth, and we see a lack of a mention about his relationship with God. The way the story ends we can assume he was consumed by his possessions and that they controlled his life rather than allowing God to take control and becoming rich toward God. Jesus wants us to make sure that we do not allow these things to fill our lives. He wants our relationship with God to be all that it can be. The man does not allow God into his life and is left in a precarious situation with God when he dies and moves on to the after life. If we look closely Jesus does not necessarily speak against the wealth, just against the fact that the man has allowed his greed to control his life.

When we let greed into our lives we sometimes close off a door that would otherwise be open to God. We cannot let this happen. We cannot allow greed to control our lives. Greed is not good. No matter what Gordon Gekko says. Greed leads to this destructive power and away from God. That is what happens when we allow a love of money to control our lives. When we let God into our lives despite our greed we let enter a man who loves and cares for us. Instead of filling that empty hole with money we can fill it with love. Money is one of the most difficult topics in our society. What do we do with it? How do we handle it? How much is too much? How do we keep from turning it into greed? I think if we examine John Wesley’s rules for money it can be a good way to get away from this idea of greed. John Wesley was the founder of our Methodist tradition, and he lays down these rules to help people listening to learn what exactly to do with money. It will help us to realize it is not about us, but about others in our lives and around the world. Wesley preached that we: Earn all you can, Save all you can, and Give all you can. Now John Wesley does tell you to earn all you can. He thinks that we should work hard and earn all that we can in our lives. However, he does speak for making sure you do not let your money-making come in the way of your relationship with God or attending those ordinances of God. Such as attending church, taking communion, and praying. Next save all you can. Wesley wants us to spend only what is necessary and save the rest. The savings don’t go to build up our wealth and wield our greed, but goes to take care of family in time of need. Lastly give all you can. Wesley was a strong proponent in helping out with many facets of social justice. Wesley would have believed that this is the step that keeps us from greed. When Wesley died he left enough money to bury himself and to take care of his family. So in a sense John Wesley earned all he could, saved all he could, and when his life ended he gave all he could to those who needed. Being able to let go of our money and give it to someone in need takes the focus on making it not our money, but money that is used to help those in the kingdom of God.

So as we go forth from here lets keep in mind Jesus’ view of greed and not Gordon Gekko’s. How it hurts our relationship with God. Through this story we see a man whose life just isn’t completely filled at the end. We must combat greed, and I feel if we keep in mind John Wesley’s rules for money we can overcome greed. We can realize that money can actually be used to further God’s kingdom. In all we must remember that greed is a sin. It is a terrible sin and while Gordon Gekko tells us that greed is the driver behind American society, it is detrimental to our society we form here in our churches. The brother’s focus so much on the inheritance they miss the fact Jesus is the son of God and has come down to preach God’s word, not settle money disputes. Do not allow greed to get the best of you. AMEN

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