This Sunday, we kick off our stewardship season, whose theme is “Every Perfect Gift.” I know a lot of people hear we have entered stewardship season and internally groan, knowing full well that we will have to spend the next few weeks talking about how we are sharing our time, talent, and treasure. This can be especially hard for those of us who were raised to believe that there are certain taboo subjects in public – and money is definitely on the banned list. I’m not sure why: money is one of the topics Jesus talks about more than any in scripture. But even Jesus seems incapable of eliminating Southern hospitality mores.
Knowing our predisposition to loathe talking about money, imagine my own groan when I read today’s gospel lesson earlier this week. This is the lesson we get on the kickoff of stewardship season?!? A lesson about how the only proper relationship with money is to give money away to the poor and follow Jesus; a lesson that asserts getting a camel through the eye of a needle is easier than the rich to get into the kingdom of God. And just in case any of us were hoping for an out, I already checked, and yes, we are considered “rich” by Jesus’ standards. We might like to think ourselves exempt because we know plenty of people who have more than we do. But given global standards, we certainly fall in the same category as the rich man in this text.
So, if your shoulders are already tensed, your foot is nervously tapping the ground, or your arms are crossed over your chest, I want you to take a deep breath in, and as you slowly exhale, allow the tension in your body to slowly release. As you take in and release a second breath, I want you to clear you mind and listen to the text again with me with an open mind. A man of deep faith runs to Jesus and throws himself at Jesus’ feet – he is already a faithful follower of God, and yet we see in him a yearning for deeper relationship, to align himself with the goodness of this man named Jesus. He is a seeker, he is humble, he is passionate. And, the text tells us, Jesus looks at him and loves him. This is not a dependent clause. This is a declarative, gracious, merciful statement of deep, abiding love. Jesus looks at him and loves him. Period.
Many have described the next part of the story as an incisive judgment or a condemnation.[i] But I see the next part of the story is an invitation – for the wealthy man, for the disciples, and for us. The invitation is to contemplate the nature of our relationship with wealth. Jesus never condemns wealth. Jesus just knows that wealth has the power to corrupt: to corrupt our generous spirit, to corrupt our sense of self-worth, to corrupt our ability to see that every perfect gift comes from God – not from our hard work, our intelligence, or even our good looks.
One of my favorite children’s sermons from my dad involved an apple. He sat down with a paring knife and asked us kids to think of the apple as the money that we have. He asked us, “What are some of the things we have to spend money on in life.” The answers started flying: housing, clothes, school supplies, food. With each answer, he would slice off a part of the apple. Then he leaned in and whispered, “Now what are the things we like to spend money on?” We had those answer too: bicycles, TVs, video games, candy! With the last suggestion, we realized he had cut every last part of the apple away. Then he looked at his empty hands and said, “Uh oh. Did any of us save anything for the church?” That morning, both the kids and the adults had guilty looks on their faces. Fortunately, my dad had stashed a second apple and suggested we start over, this time giving the first slice to God. We were amazed how we still had room for both needs and wants, even losing that crucial first slice.
That is the invitation of our stewardship season too: to take a look at every perfect gift in our lives, to look at every perfect gift within ourselves, and to look at every perfect gift in others and to understand all that abundance comes from God. When we allow ourselves to see the magnitude of that abundance, we can then see what Jesus is inviting the wealthy man, the disciples, and us into: a posture of abundance, that sees all the perfect gifts we receive, we have, and others around us have and to become agents of abundance who, with relaxed shoulders, untensed bodies, and unfolded arms long to share that abundance. Amen.
[i] Debie Thomas, “What Must I Do?” October 3, 2021, as found at https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2944 on October 8, 2021.