This series is a Long and Deep Teaching. It’s not a short and quick blog entry. It’s a long entry. If you’re interested, then dig in. If not, then you can just pass it by. Thanks!
Continued from Part 1
For some, Christian ministry is a big, profitable business. They have benefitted big time financially for promoting and using Christianity for gain. I have a problem with some of those folks, particularly pastors or ministers of megachurches or prosperity churches where one’s message is about getting blessed in this world’s favors and riches. As if that’s the end or goal of The Christian Faith. I say it is definitely not what the Christian is striving for. Salvation in Christ and helping others to come to repentance and faith in Jesus is our beginning, in a formation of love and sacrifice that aims towards company with God in Heaven, after pleasing Him on earth.
Jesus said such things as: “Follow Me.” “Know that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and come follow Me.” “In the world you will have tribulation (by following Me), but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” “You are no longer of the world, just as much as I am not of the worldly life.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all things may come to you.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit… the meek… the clean of heart… and who suffer for My sake and that of service of the Gospel.”
He did not say: Follow the money! Like Me, you will always have a nice place to lay your head. Exalt yourself, look to be unburdened and at ease, and give to Me. In the world you shall be clever and exploit it, for you can make the world serve your bank account. You are meant to be blessed in all worldly gains. Seek how the Christian faith can be of benefit to you. Blessed are the mighty and the cleverly manipulative, for there lies true wisdom– to get the other guy to bless you, since you are superior and chosen now, as God the King’s kid. Blessed are those who get ahead, and to look for ways the Christian way is of ease and comfort, and so that I can tithe a nice portion back to bless others from my abundance. (Sic.)
Now there was word earlier this year that another megachurch was trying to be built in this local area. That prosperity church already were making plans with a land purchase and with lining up a charismatic prosperity prophet to come. They were looking forward to becoming an affluent church here in Mitchellville-Bowie-Crofton. However, some officials seem to have ruled versus their plans. The officials don’t want this kind of neighbor.
Good for them seeing this prosperity church as more of a business than a church coming to town.
What of our Catholic Faith? What is our message about Jesus and riches?
As Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis leads the message of the Church that our interest should not be financial prosperity for self-gain in the Christian, but for a care-for-the-poor attention from the Christian, so not to disclude the poor but to reach out to them.
While the pope isn’t saying anything negative about a Christian being well-off, as some Catholics and other Christians have found such a life, he is concentrating on the example of Jesus, Who did not come robed in riches or seeking such, nor did “equate equality with God something to be grasped out, but became a bond-servant.” It meant that God became poor with us in Jesus coming, so to give us the kingdom of God and friendship back with God, for poor or middle-class and rich persons alike.
Jesus did not come as a well-off person seeking to make other well-off persons. If so, we would be Roman Catholics but perhaps Amway Catholics or Mary Kay Catholics or Land Investment or Gold Investment Catholics. While the pursuit of business success is fine with the above, it is not the first business of Catholic faith.
Our Founder’s example has been quite clear and public. The Way of Jesus is quite a contradiction to the prosperity gospel message. Jesus’ gospel message is first for selflessness, not selfishness, and for giving, not taking.
What does Our Lord teach? That we are not to be greedy, but to be passionately caring for our needy brothers and sisters, and that all our concerns on this planet should be for the Common Good. We are to care for another in the love of Christ. Jesus did it without a big bankroll. He inspired loving cooperation and human goodness, and people saw that as basically how this earth was supposed to operate: in a love for one another (John 13-17, 1st John 3).
Recently some needy persons with some church background had come knocking on our Catholic church door for help. They had a $2000 need, so to get out of a shelter. Since the need was so great, I asked if they had first knocked on doors of some nearby churches of the prosperity gospel message (and of some megachurches), since those churches and members claim to be rolling in God’s blessings to their pocketbooks and wallets. The need persons commented: ‘Those churches and their people never give a nickel to anyone like us for charity. They are uncomfortable with us even being around them.’
That prosperity church reputation certainly doesn’t sound like they are following the example of Jesus that I read about in the Gospels. In Matthew 23 it quotes Jesus’ criticism of some flaunting religious people of his time: “…they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger for others’ burdens. But they do all their deeds in order to be noticed or seen by others….they like outward shows….They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues…”
Just down the road from a nearby megachurch, I stop in a few times a year at a convenience store for some soda or snacks. The majority of customers there are not coming for such store items, but coming to place bets in gambling games. These folks do not drive up in expensive vehicles, nor waltz in wearing rich clothes, but they are regular people looking to strike it rich. The state government has learned from some churches example, and look to make money off people’s hopes for the rich lifestyle. People pray for the big pay off in such things as lottery numbers. Once in a while, someone might ask: “Do you play, Father?” I have the ready answer: “I have already hit it big.” They ask: “How much money did you win?” I say: “My big winnings was meeting and knowing Jesus Christ and bearing His Cross, so to one day wear the crown of righteousness in Him in Heaven.”
It’s mostly, though, the poor downtrodden people in America who try their far-fetched luck on gambling, thinking that it’s their only possibility of getting their dismal financial picture turned around. They think such gambling “gives God a way to bless them.” (Somebody made that comment to me.) Huh?!
Pope Francis says that it is sad that the poor feel so hopeless, thinking that their odds of inclusion at the table of blessings are so bad. Francis hopes the Church can be a communion of believers that extends itself to be their loving help and invitation to the table.
It’s a shame that the Christian faith would have even churches that act more like the lottery places or casinos, saying: ‘Come in here and see your luck change. See the money blessings flow to your lap.’
Pope Francis builds on the message that has been running through Church history, asking the Faithful to be “free from the lust of money (1 Timothy 6:10)” and to be free from idolatry, but to put the love of Christ, and love of neighbor as one’s self as primary to the Church’s practice (Mark 12:31). Pope and Saint John Paul II wrote a marvelous message on this in an encyclical called “Rich in Mercy.” Pope Francis will emphasis 2016 as a Year of Mercy to focus again on what Christ desires for us. It will build on St. John Paul’s Rich in Mercy message.
In this blog series, we simply ask and examine: Was Jesus rich? (I ask it, because it is something of a wrongful assertion of the prosperity gospel message that the answer was “yes.”) Was Jesus rich? The off-the-mark prosperity gospel bent of today (with all its churches) would have you think He was. Based on that assumption, they want to lead you to think that this now entitles you (as a member in Christ/ or their church) that you should become rich. (They say it is due to you as a believer!)
From the look of cars in a church like this, people are striving for this life of material blessing. (It can also be true sometimes of our own churches.)
Yet nowhere can you find a passage in the New Testament where Jesus Christ or His apostles or disciples were encouraged to get money or become materially rich. Jesus Christ taught the opposite, He told the rich man to “sell all that he had and give to the poor… come follow me and you will have treasure in Heaven! (Luke 18:22; 12:33-34)” When the man refused, Jesus commented that for such a man possessed by his possessions or riches, it would be harder to get to Heaven, than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Eeekkk!
Our newest pope choose the name of Francis at his installation because he knew that the above verse was the Scriptural plan that the famed saint of Assisi followed, in imitation of His Master, Jesus.
And St. Francis succeeded in living a blessed, Christ-like life.
Pope Francis hopes to bring some of the saint’s help to the Church of today.
The prosperity gospel is a problem in America today. It feeds into the self-entitlement mentality and attitude and action of the modern person, which is often pretty sinful. Lots of independent Christians are in it, but they are not in line with how Christianity has been practiced faithfully for 2000 years. I don’t think so, anyway.
It’s not to say that Christians, or particularly, Catholics, cannot be wealthy. They can. And be holy doing so. And charitable. And good.
But since the problems exists that many GET caught up in a pursuit of wealth, we need to go to the Scriptures and see what our Christianity is all about. We’ll look at a few citations in this Part Two blog, and then finish in Part Three.
The message of St. John to his own churches in the writings of Revelation (Apocalypse) gives a relevant warning to people today. In the third chapter of Revelations it says thus: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth… Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked!… I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and (I ask you to) anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see (aright in faith)… As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
That message is to anyone lost in wealth, prosperity gospel or otherwise. ‘Right?
Let’s examine that exhortation. “Because you say I’m rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing-and do not know that you are wretched miserable, blind and naked…” What a summation of where the modern version of the rich Laodicean church is lost today in it’s self. God’s remedy of the sinful condition in the Laodicean community is for them “to buy gold refined in the fire from Him, that one may become rich, and white garments that you may be clothed…” The gold is not earthly gold, but the spiritual life in God’s Spirit and New Life for humankind; while the white garments refer to mercy and our baptismal identity in Christ’ innocence. The admonition is for the person to go zealously to confession and to get back to the place of Christ and His Innocence in us. The real riches that Christ is concerned with are spiritual ones; our self-righteous rags will never do from a church that is self empowered. Until we have God’s eye salve applied to our eyes we will continue to look at the outward, and ignore our spiritual bankrupt condition on the inside, and then our mission to the world to love and to share and become one under God.
Was Jesus Rich? Let’s look at the clear biblical evidence.
Jesus was born in a stable (his parents knew the approximate time of his birth so they could have reserved a place, God could have made sure he had a room) but it was to be in a stable, a cave. It was no Hilton or Marriott cave, either! (This past year I stayed a night at a resort hotel built on a mountain, so the rooms and pools and restaurants were in the rock caverns/caves.)
Jesus was the Son Eternal, Divine and the King forever, yet He became one of us and as a child. It was a poverty of spirit that was quite something. Christmas is about simplicity and poverty, not riches and wealth.
In the first few days of His life, Luke 2:22-24 says that Jesus’ parents offered the sacrifice of two turtle doves, in His dedication-presentation ceremony at the Temple. Two turtledoves was a poor household’s sacrifice to God (Lev.12:2-8). Jesus’ mother Mary identified herself as poor, for as when God visited her by the angel, the prayer she will pray she exults in her prayer praises in saying: “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.” Oh by the way, if the Holy Family had been rich, as the prosperity gospel proponents claim, they would have had to make a larger sacrifice than the two turtle doves at the Presentation. If they were rich, and did not tithe as so, then they would have broken with Jewish law, and the Holy Family did not do such things.
Jesus gave up all the riches that are His in heaven to become a man and was born to a poor family (not homeless and destitute), and his stepfather was a carpenter, and, that is a humble vocation, and the money isn’t too good, because the Romans were taking much of it away.
Archeological excavations of Nazareth show the village of Jesus’ day was occupied by poor agricultural people. As Jesus grew up He worked in the trade of a carpenter, which was not a trade known for its wealth. How did Jesus become rich with a step-dad who was only a carpenter? There is absolutely no indication anywhere that he was wealthy from his family or from traveling with His disciples. He took no money enumeration or possessions for His services. It is revealing to hear the things that Jesus said, as He preached and ministered to people. In Matthew 11 or in Luke 7′s parallel account, it says: “As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts.”
What did that conclude? That neither John or Jesus dressed up as those who “show” God’s blessings today, with their thousand-dollar suits and shoes and religious bling. Why does Jesus’ cousin John wear such bad clothing if then Jesus was walking around in expensive clothing (a seamless garment), didn’t He share? (!) –because they both were simple men, detached from possessions. Jesus did not own a house. Nor did John. John could have had a nice post as Temple priest, as his father, but John choose the Judean hills and desert to serve the prophetic life, much like Elijah did.
Jesus was so detached, that by His ministry time, He had no where to lay His head to call His own. In Matt. 8:19-20, it says: “Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Yes, Jesus had no place to lay his head, no permanent home, and his hometown of Nazareth spurned and rejected Him when He came to minister there, and so it was that Jesus constantly traveled, and when He stayed somewhere the longest, it was at Peter’s house, since Peter had to get back now and then to see his family, as did some of the other married apostles. Jesus dressed like everyone else, and He even said to forsake this world to inherit his kingdom. He taught that “His kingdom is not of this world” and He made it perfectly clear in His teachings. Jesus, as Son Eternal, already was King of the Heavens. He was offering humanity a place in His kingdom.
The rich young ruler came to Jesus and He responded by telling to him “to give all his riches to the poor and follow Him.” Was Jesus telling him to rid himself of riches while he actually possessed them Himself? No. And that is another knock versus the prosperity gospel version of things. Would Jesus ask someone to do something He Himself would not?
In 2 Cor.8:9 St. Paul states of Jesus “being rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich.” (These are spiritual riches being talked about here). In the only place in Scripture that mentions Jesus as “rich” it says that He became poor. Did Jesus become poor during his lifetime so we could become rich financially later? This is not a trick question and should be obvious to all familiar with the scriptures. This “being rich” is speaking of His preexistence in His position of glory? He became poor in becoming a servant in position and also in his social life. Zech. 9:9 is a Scripture Jesus fulfilled in His actions: ” Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Even His fulfilling prophecy as a king was in humility of His position. God’s Son came as a servant, not a king, but today we have those who want to have crowns recognized for their positions now. Quite the opposite in the Scripture: “he who is exalted will be humbled.” We are to follow Jesus’ pattern, yet some actually think if Jesus came today he’d have the best clothes, drive the most expensive Mercedes or BMW, and eat steak or lobster every night to wash down with fine wine. We better look carefully at the Bible before we choke on what is being dished out in any prosperity message wrapped in Christian wrapping!