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According to the Oxford Dictionary, wealth is defined as, “an abundance of valuable possessions or money.” Its synonyms include affluence, prosperity, riches, substance, and well-being. A person’s understanding of how much wealth they have can be based on a comparison to what someone else has, otherwise known as keeping up with the Joneses. A sense of wealth can also be a measure of what possessions and money represent: status, having “made it,” “living large,” “buying what I want when I want it even if I don’t really need it cause I just want to have it syndrome.”
It is my understanding that most people who have a lot of money or wealth for a long time, “old money folk,” never talk about how much money they have as it is considered ill-mannered. Most of the folks I know, talk about money or wealth regularly because they are still trying to figure out how to get it, when to use it, and on occasion, where to flaunt it.
Our readings today ask us to reflect on this notion of wealth. In Amos the focus is on those whose only concern is how to make money seemingly by any means necessary. Making money the minute the Sabbath is over. Making money even if it ruins the land or hurts needy people. Cheating if necessary to make money. By whatever means necessary, make that money, make that money, make that money. Like a drumbeat it is the driving force of those who will never have enough.
In Timothy, we hear a different definition of wealth. There is a richness to life that comes from praying for others in such a way that all will have dignity and live a peaceable life. Doing what is right and good, as defined by God, is its own reward.
The Gospel offers a third point of consideration. What happens when one receives wealth and wastes it? This troubles me the most because, truth be told, I am guilty of having wasted what I have received. Not all the time, just often enough to realize that I need to continually work to change my ways. Like the manager in the Gospel story, I have not always taken notice of what I have and/or have not used those gifts wisely. Let me give you a couple of examples. Every time I buy too much food and end up throwing it out because it spoiled, salad greens come to mind, I have wasted a gift that could have nourished me. When I order something new to replace something I already have, that works fine by the way, I am wasting resources that might have been better used for something else. Wealth is about abundance. It seems to me that taking the time to think about what I truly need and giving away the rest would be a good thing.
When I was first ordained I served at our mission in Monte Rio. It was a small congregation and in those days we functioned like a family. Everyone knew everyone else and although there were some folks who had plenty of resources, there were others who did not have as much. One summer we decided to have a giveaway. The idea was that everyone would bring to church things they no longer could use or wanted to give away to someone else. We had a few rules. The items had to be in good working order, clean and ready to use. People should only bring items that they would give to a friend. And nothing would be sold. The items were carefully organized and displayed throughout the church. The first hour was reserved for church members to share and then the rest of the day we opened the giveaway to the community. If you needed or wanted it, it was yours. Anything left over at the end of the day would go to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
As you might imagine, we had a lot of items to share. One of the items included a huge bag of clean baby clothes. We were about to pack up the items at the end of the day when I woman came by in a car to ask if we had, you guessed it, any thing for babies. It turned out that she worked at a hospital in San Francisco on a unit that served a lot of low-income mothers who had next to nothing for their newborns. We happily gave her that big bag of baby clothes. Of course these days you can do giveaways on the Internet by using sites like Freecycle and Craigslist however, our giveaway is one of my fondest ministry memories because everyone benefited. Folks gave, folks received, and all prospered. On that day, we were all wealthy.
How we define wealth and abundance is important. If one only thinks about money or material possessions as wealth, then we miss all the other forms of abundance in our life. Some of the richest people I have known are people who do not look like they have much. Their wealth came from loving, caring, sharing and believing, believing in a God who would provide them with the wisdom and guidance they needed to thrive. They always had enough, and their needs were always met.
We can serve God by serving one another or we can serve our selves in the pursuit of wealth. We cannot do both. Our choices will always reveal which one we think is the most important.