October 14, 2012 “ 20 Pentecost, Proper 23B
Amos 5:6-7,10-15; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how stingy would you say you are? If a perfect stranger were to look at your money and how you deal with it, on a scale of 1 to 10 how stingy would he say you are?
The prophet Amos went around asking questions like that and people didn’t like him much at all. He was a prophet when things were very good in Israel. The cities were full of people with plenty of money. One reason perhaps was because they had worked pretty hard to get their money. But they seemed to have forgotten their responsibility to be fair and honest. They seemed to have forgotten their responsibility to be generous with their community of faith and with those who had less. Amos asks the people how stingy they think they are and they say, Well, we think we’re about a 2 on that scale. We think we’re doing pretty well. Amos scoffs and says, Well I’ve been talking to God and from 1 to 10 on the stingy scale he’s got you at 9.5. You better change or trouble’s coming.
That’s kind of a problem with stinginess. We don’t want to be stingy so often we convince ourselves that we’re really doing better than we actually are. It’s pretty easy to rationalize stinginess. We tell ourselves there’s not that much there and we better be careful with what we’ve got. We know we have certain things we need to do with our money and we tell ourselves it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible not to take care of those needs first. We really do want to be generous but, sin and selfishness being what they are, we usually run out of money or time before we can ever become generous. We don’t like stingy people and we’re scared of being that way ourselves so we tell ourselves we’re doing better than we actually are. We want to be good so we just pretend we are.
A man wanting to be good approaches Jesus in the gospel lesson. Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? He seems to know Jesus isn’t just some ordinary guy. He comes to Jesus associating him perhaps with being the messiah or at least a new prophet and asks a seemingly good question. He looks like a good guy wanting to get even better. But Jesus sees into his heart and senses pretense. No one is good but God alone. Jesus and this man seem to disagree about where on that scale of stinginess he might fall. They get into a discussion about the commandments. Yep, got those down. Been working on them real hard. So what else should I be doing? Again it sounds like a pretty good question. But something’s amiss. Is the man asking how much more he needs to do to meet some standard? Is he trying to figure out what the minimum standard might be? Pretension causes us to spend a lot of time trying to reach that minimum amount of goodness that will make us acceptable. It seems we ask not how much do you want from us Lord?, but how little are you willing to let me get by with Lord? Jesus says, I want it all. I want you to give everything away and follow me. I don’t just want your money. I want you, all of you. I want your commitment and faithfulness. I want your love and loyalty. I want to be more important to you than anything else. So get rid of that money. It’s holding you back. Put it down and follow me.
Often Jesus is pretty persuasive. Often he inspires people to lay down what they have and devote their lives to following him but here maybe he overplays his hand. Maybe the guy goes home and thinks about it and comes back to join the disciples. We never know. We just know that right here he walks away because he can’t say that God is more important than his money. He leaves here still holding something back, still trying to figure out that minimum standard of goodness that he might be able to get away with.
Years ago a parishioner called me to talk about his giving. He was someone who, on more than one occasion, had bragged to me about how much money he made. But on this day, on the surface at least, he sounded like a good guy wanting to do better. He asked me what the average pledge was and I told him. His pledge was about half of that. He told me he wanted to do his fair share so he was going to double his pledge so he would meet the average. Maybe I should have been satisfied with that but I wasn’t. I said, Your fair share would actually be ten times that amount. Ten times that? That’s a lot of money. Well, you’ve got a lot of money, so you’ve told me,. Things didn’t go so well after that. I overplayed my hand. He didn’t walk away grieving but he sure walked away.
What does God want from us? Does he want all our money? No he really doesn’t. He wants all of us. He wants our commitment and loyalty. He wants faithfulness. He wants us to put down those things that we cling to more than faithfulness. He wants to be more important than anything else in our lives. That’s not because he’s some vain, insecure being who can’t stand us not telling him how great he is. It’s because that’s what’s best for us. When we give God our whole heart, life is as good as it can be. When we give God our whole heart, we have riches for eternity.
God always wants more from us than we are currently giving him, again not out of some vain insecurity, but for our own good. God never says, Robert, you’re fine just the way you are. I wish everybody was just like you. God says, Robert, I love you and there is more for you to do to live into that love. So get cracking.
What more do you need to offer God at this point in your life? Start with your money. None of us is giving enough. We all need to give more. We’re all a little higher on that stinginess scale than we’d like to be. You have work to do. And, as you do that work, the kingdom grows in your heart. But time is running out.
Where else do you need to grow? God wants more from us. God wants more for us. He wants us to know salvation through his only son Jesus Christ. Accept the gift. Grow in the kingdom. Quit rationalizing and get cracking, okay?