Take the day lilies, for instance. They don’t put in overtime or work themselves to death. But not even Donald Trump, with his vast fortunes, has any chance of looking as good as they do. They bloom only for a day, and the next day they’re just fire starter. It’s no great leap of faith to see that if God cares for them, God cares for you.
With this, Jesus says that working hard to get ahead is a waste of time. Not working hard, mind you, but working hard to get ahead.
Wealth, and anything that wealth can get us, is a mirage. Temporary. Transient. As the Buddhists might say, impermanent. Striving after these things is bound just to make us old before our time (and worth nothing but fire starter), to burn us out.
Neither is there any use wearing ourselves and God out by praying for wealth. In spite of what you might hear from the likes of Joel Osteen or Creflo Dollar, wealth is not a measure of God’s blessing. Never has been, never will be.
Instead, Jesus’ says, God cares for you. Now that you don’t have to work to prove how much better-off you are, you’re free to do what’s really important.
When the king had settled into his palace and God had given him a break from fighting his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the truth-teller, “It doesn’t seem right that I’m living in this palace built of cedar while God’s stuff remains outside in a tent.”
Nathan said, “I know what you’re thinking. God approves your plan, so go ahead.”
But that same night God spoke to Nathan:
Go back and tell David that God says, “Don’t build me a temple to live in. I’ve never lived in a temple. Not when I brought the Israelites out of Egypt. And not now. I’m always on the move. stopping off in a tent, or in a lean-to. I never criticized any of Israel’s leaders before for not building me a cedar temple.”
So, tell David God says, “I chose you from your lot as an insignificant shepherd and made you the prince to rule over my people. I’ve been with you wherever you’ve gone. I’ve cleared away your enemies as you’ve advanced. And I will make you world-famous. You’ll be in the Who’s-Who of World Leaders. I’ll make sure that my people can settle into a place where they can live in peace, and where the barbarians won’t harass them as they have all during the reign of the Arbitrators. I’ll relieve you from having to deal with all your enemies.
“I’ll make sure your dynasty and empire last forever. Your government will be eternal.”
So, Nathan told David every word he had heard in this vision.
Had David proposed to give up his royal palace and move back out into a tent, the answer might have been different. But as it is, David’s proposal is to make God in his own image.
David is a king in a palace. And he’s started to think like… a king in a palace.
Wouldn’t it be nice, and wouldn’t it be reassuring, to have a God who is just like me living in palace next door, instead of that ragged old tent in the next lot lowering the property values.
Wouldn’t it be nice, and wouldn’t it be reassuring, to know that there is a place, a really nice, pleasant place to visit nearby, where you can go when you need to ask for a divine favor when you need an imperial egg or a cup of imperial flour. A place where you know God will be when you need God, and where God won’t be getting in the way when you’d rather not have God around.
Wouldn’t it be a nice way to do something charitable for the community, to build another albatross of a building with my name on a memorial plaque that will need to be supported by assessments on the common people, so that I won’t feel quite as guilty for being so well-off while the common people struggle to get by.
But God will have none of it, even if the ragged old tent is lowering property values. God doesn’t live in Temples (or church buildings). Never has. Never asked for them. God won’t endorse the building projects. And God won’t be pinned down to any particular zip code. God is much more interested in making sure the people, who have had to put up with being plundered by enemies all around, can finally live in peace.
In this Biblical view of government, there is no call for theocracy. Instead, there is a call for someone who will lay aside the building of national monuments to focus on the well-being and prosperity of the people.
[Bonus: You know that house on your block that everyone in the neighborhood wishes they could get rid of because it’s such an eyesore and it’s lowering property values. That’s the one God is living in.]
Looking around to his students, Jesus said, “It will be awfully hard for rich folk to get to the goal.” And this puzzled his students, so he tried again, saying, “Kids, getting to the goal is hard! It’s easier to drive a Hummer through a pinhole that for rich folk to make it to the goal.”
At this they were even more stupefied, and they asked each other, “Will anyone make it?”
And Jesus, looking them over again, said, “For humans it’s impossible. But God can do anything.”
While Jesus admits that it’s possible for the rich to live well, he’s fairly explicit about the difficulty involved. It’ll take a miracle.
But how rich? Where is the cut-off? Isn’t wealth relative? If I’m not Bill Gates, I’m not really rich. But compared to a mother of 8 working in a sweatshop in Taiwan, I am.
I’m guessing the line gets drawn wherever wealth begins to cut you off from caring about and doing for people outside the circle of people who can afford to care about the things you care about. And not just doing for in order to satisfy some minimum qualification for salvation. Not doing for in a patronizing way. Not just a handout.
You’ll know you’ve hit the line when you find yourself making excuses to yourself about why you couldn’t help someone when you know that you could have. You just didn’t want to because it would cost too much.
But Jesus never said it would be easy. It might even take a miracle.