SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

In 1639, the elders of the First Congregational Church in Boston convened  a special meeting to admonish and discipline Robert Keayne – by all accounts a shrewd businessman, devout Christian, and all-around good guy – for the sin of greed. Three or four years earlier, these elders decided that Christians should sell their merchandise for no more than a four percent markup. However, it had come to light that Mr. Keayne was selling his for a six percent markup.

Did that four percent figure come from somewhere in the Old Testament? Nope. Is it from something Jesus said in the New Testament? No, it is not. Is it something from one of Paul’s letters? Not a chance. No, that four percent figure was completely arbitrary. The congregation of the First Congregational Church got together and said: in our place and our time, charging anything more than four percent means you’re greedy; anything under that and you’re fine!

From our modern perspective of people who live in the Google-Facebook-Amazon-Home Shopping Network universe, the idea of drawing a red line in the sand like that seems like a silly thing to do.  But from the perspective of a passage in the Gospel of Matthew, defining greed in such a simple, concrete way like that was very intelligent. Matthew recorded a teaching that doesn’t seem to fit with Jesus’ other instructions on money. Jesus says, “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness.”[1]

What does that have to do with anything, let alone what it has to do with money? The basic idea of our Lord’s teaching is that all sorts of light surround us now. Light is pouring in through the windows of our homes, coming out of our overhead lights and lamps. If our eyes are healthy, we can take that light into our bodies so that we can navigate around easily. So, there is a real sense that if your eyes are healthy, your whole body is filled with light.

On the flip side, if our eyes are unhealthy, it doesn’t matter how much light is pouring out of our screens and through our windows; we can’t take it into our bodies. And so, we’re not going to be able to navigate our way around, at least, not without stubbing our toe on our furniture! Logically, if our eyes are unhealthy, our whole body is filled with darkness. As a result, we cannot use them as they are intended to be used.

So, what does this mean in the context of money and even our time and talent? First, it implies that greed and materialism are the only vices to which we are completely and utterly blind, so we can’t navigate our way out. All it takes for us to be blind to them is to be standing next to someone who is a little bit better off than we are, a bit looser with their spending than we are, and a little bit more into things and possessions than we are. Then, when we see that person, we can point at them and say, “Thank God I’m not like that person. They sure are greedy, aren’t they? They sure are materialistic!”

But we cannot see ourselves in that same light because our eyes are unhealthy. So, what is the fix? How do we go from having unhealthy eyes and bodies filled with darkness to having healthy eyes and bodies filled with light? How do you stop serving money and start serving God? How do we stop storing up treasure on earth and start storing up treasure in heaven?

As well-worn and predictable the answer might be, the first step toward getting our spiritual eyes and bodies full of light is to simply understand – on an intellectual level – the Gospel story. At the heart of this whole thing that we’re doing here, we have this story about a God who loves us so much that He gives up being God, takes on flesh and lives, and suffers and dies. But, to what end?

Well, the whole point of this story is that God is showing us what God treasures through it. And what does God treasure? Well, it looks a whole lot like you. And it seems a whole lot like me. So, in other words, this story tells us that each of us, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, already has significance. We have value because we are treasured and deeply loved by our Creator. And if we can get to a point where we believe that’s true, then we don’t need to amass money and things around us to feel more significant, meaningful, and better than others.

Instead, we don’t need to measure other people’s significance by the money and stuff they have because we can see, with healthy eyes, that their significance comes from the same place ours does: from the fact that God loves us. Now, as commonplace and predictable as that message is valid, let’s hope that even though, at times, we become a little greedy, our hearts, might come to believe it too!


[1] Matthew 6:22

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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