Ed Sheeran. He’s got a bit of cash, apparently, though not as much as Paul McCartney who has a whole lot more. I know this because yesterday was the publication of the Sunday Times’ Rich List, an annual list of the richest people in the UK.
Growing up I just accepted the rationale of this — of course a nationally respected newspaper publishes a list celebrating how much money rich people have — yet now I can’t help but question why this is accepted.
Why would this list exist if not for the underlying assumption, ingrained in our society, that the worth of a life is measured in hard currency? As though the true measure of success, of importance, of significance, is how much wealth a person has accumulated.
It’s been the same throughout most of recorded human history, we’ve associated wealth with power and status. This is one of the reasons why, when a Rabbi from Nazareth started teaching two thousand years ago, his message was revolutionary.
It would be the work of more than one blog post to really explore Jesus teaching around our attitudes to earthly wealth, but it is clear that his teaching was radically different to the social norm.
Having started his public ministry by proclaiming “good news to the poor,” he goes on to dine with people right across the socio-economic spectrum. In one of his most famous sermons he gives a long list of people who are blessed; it’s known as the beatitudes and it is shockingly subversive. It’s like an alternate rich list where those found to be truly blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek and the hungry.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
– Luke 6:20 (NIV)
Does this mean that Jesus came to dispossess the rich? Like some kind of proto-Marxist messiah? No, Jesus was far more radical than that. He announced that he was initiating a kingdom where the attitudes to everything, including money, were different.
In our society the wealth, or lack of it, of the family you’re born into is the most likely indicator of whether you will go to university, how good your health will be, and whether you will end up in prison. People’s fate so often rests in the capricious hands of money.
Jesus initiates a different kind of kingdom. Where your status is measured by what he has done, rather than how much you earn. A kingdom where those who have more give generously not because they are obliged by law but because they are compelled by grace. Where his advice to a rich young ruler is to start giving money away, and his praise for generosity goes to a woman who gave two coins so worthless that archeologists have never found a single one – no one bothered to save mites.
Jesus initiates a different kind of kingdom … where those who have more give generously not because they are obliged by law but because they are compelled by grace.
I’ve heard it said many times, usually by people making appeals for money, that Jesus spoke more about money than anything else – including faith and prayer – but that’s not a fair representation of what Jesus says. What we actually find when we dig into Jesus teaching is that often when he talks about money and wealth? He’s using something we do understand to illustrate something we don’t.
He starts sentences with ‘the kingdom of heaven is like,’ and then draws analogies that people understand by talking about the way they value worldly wealth. In doing so he repeatedly teaches that what matters is not how much you accumulate or possess in this world but that you see what is truly valuable in the initiation of his kingdom.
What Jesus does is take money from being a master and make it a servant. When we see things like the rich list, we see that society is dominated by the need to accumulate wealth; when we see that the key indicator of a person’s future is often their bank balance, we see that this society does not work for all.
The one who gave everything, invites us to join him in establishing a kingdom where this is not so and to be part of transforming society – to reach out to those left behind, branded as without worth, and invite them to know Him too.