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What Jesus REALLY Says About Money

March 11, 2022

I was a 12 year old right at the height of the W.W.J.D bracelet craze. I still remember buying a neon green one with some of the candy money my mom had given me for the week at summer camp. I sported that WWJD bracelet proudly, and every time I got mad while playing tetherball, or considered if I should take the last of the mac and cheese or let the next kid have it, I looked down at that bracelet for the answers. Would Jesus throw a fit that he just lost tether ball? I don’t think so. Boom. Decision made. 

Unfortunately, adult decisions about money management and planning for your future aren’t quite so simple. I asked my old summer camp, and it turns out that they are fresh out of WWJSM bracelets, so I can’t just ask “Where Would Jesus Spend Money?” 

I manage folk’s money and investments for a living, and one of the biggest challenges I face is helping folks align the way they use their money with their values. Here are a few helpful biblical figures to look at to start the conversation with God about how you’re investing your money. 

Let’s begin with the most important point: Jesus cared about the poor, like, a lot. He constantly talked about caring for the poor, and even goes as far in Matthew 25 as to identify himself with this class, and say that what you did for them or didn’t do for them is as if you had done or not done it to him (Mat. 25:34-46). Any way of approaching money that isn’t actively considering how one’s actions effect the poor and suffering in the world is already in seriously hot water from a Jesus-based perspective. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man who doesn’t notice the suffering of the beggar Lazarus is sent to a place of torment after death for his refusal to do something about the poor man right in front of his house. 

Some of you are Lazarus, from the parable Jesus tells of The Rich Man and Lazarus. Lazarus did not have wealth. He lived his whole life in need, and had to rely on others to get by. The Rich Man that lived right next door (literally the house behind where he sat and asked others for help) never saw or helped him. He also had a medical condition that made his life more difficult. If  you are dealing with significant financial hardship, or have a medical condition that is drains your ability to work or your resources, you may be the Lazarus in the story.

If you have been made to feel guilty for your financial hardship, or your lack of resources, know that there is a God who sees you, and has compassion. Jesus identifies with you, and is on your side. There is no condemnation for those that are in Christ (Rom 8:1). As the widow who gave a few pennies proves, it is the generosity you have with what you are given that matters, not how big that sum is. In America, if you are someone who struggles to make all your bills and also eat each month, someone on government support to get by, or someone who feels like everyone else has it better off than you, you may be Lazarus. Know that there is hope, and there are ways to get to a better situation. You are loved, and you’re not alone.

Next, we have the Rich Man in the parable. Let’s modernize things a bit to talk about him, shall we? The rich man has the latest iphone, frequents wineries, dines out whenever he likes, and lives in a very nice place. He found his way into the systems of power in his culture, and enjoys the benefits of those systems. Today that means he probably works in tech, or is in finance. Sounding familiar yet? Alright, so there are a few spots he drives past on his way to work…or did, before he had the luxury of work-from-home given to him, which the lower class in his culture didn’t get. He would drive past this homeless shelter a few times a week, and the most he ever did was think “Man, I wish someone would take care of this homeless problem; the streets are so dirty around here.” There’s this homeless man not far from his place that always begs at the same street corner. He used to think “Poor guy. Wonder what put him there. I can’t give him money, he would probably use it for drugs or something. I’d just be enabling him.” Now, he mostly just treats him as part of the scenery. He doesn’t think about that man much nowadays. 

If any of this sounds familiar, you may the The Rich Man in the story. You are the one that has the means, but isn’t using that power to make the world better actively. Maybe you tithe and figure “the church is taking care of that for me,” but Jesus doesn’t give us the option to outsource our compassion or giving. He calls each of us to see each other, and to care. You may feel you already are doing enough, or that you barely have enough to care for your own family. I once heard someone say to me “I can’t just give to anyone that asks of me. We are only two job losses and a medical emergency away from poverty.” He had 200,000.00 in savings. If you live your life in a way where you no longer see the poverty and need of those around you, or you find yourself saying no to the needs of others more than you say yes, you may be the Rich Man. You too are loved, and not alone. There is still hope for change, but repentance is an essential first step. 

Last, we have one of my favorite characters in the Bible–Zaccheaus. Zaccheus was a tax collector (and a wee little man, a wee little man was he! Oh, oops. Sunday school still has such a grip on me even at 31). Zaccheus was very similar to the Rich Man in terms of wealth and resources, but he had an active hunger to do what was good and right. He sought Jesus out, and gladly listened to what he had to say. His open heart saw that he had amassed more than he needed, and that some of his wealth was built on extortion and systemic oppression of certain people groups. Immediately, he gave away half of his wealth to the poor, and he committed to paying back 4x anything he had wrongfully taken. It never mentions him leaving his high paying job, but only that he will now do that job mindful of the poor, the systemically oppressed, and in a way that will honor God with all the money he has. 

If you have amassed some wealth, or have a job that pays you a good bit more than your monthly needs, and you not only are using these funds to better the situation of the marginalized and systemically oppressed, but are actively open to new ways to do so, then you are Zaccheus. If you have ever looked at your resources and said “I don’t need all of this, how can I give some away to bring someone up, or level the playing field for others” then you are Zaccheus. If you are so short that you hate concerts where everyone is standing (because seriously how do they expect you to see anything?!) then you are also Zaccheus but in a different way that’s not relevant right now.

The truth is, most of us that have some level of financial stability are probably somewhere between the Rich Man and Zaccheus. We probably tune out some of the needs of those in our community, and do some things to give and love others as well. We all have busy lives, and it can feel overwhelming to try to constantly be open to what God is asking you to do with your money, but this is still the goal to strive for. If you have never thought about where your wealth is coming from, what sort of companies your investments are supporting, or if you are living more like Zaccheus or the Rich Man, it is never too late to start.

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