Recently, Facebook friend Jim Moss said “It bears repeating: Middle and upper middle class Christians have no clue what Jesus was talking about when he talked about the ravens and the lilies. No clue.” Now, if you’re wondering what that “ravens” thing is about, it’s a reference to a passage in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said not to worry about your life, God will provide. I’ll admit, it threw me off, too; I’d never seen a translation that used that put it that way. But, once I figured it out, I began to wonder, can you be rich and still be a Christian?
Of course, you can. There are plenty of prosperous Christians who use their wealth to help their less fortunate brothers and sisters. It was true in Jesus’ time as well; if not for well-heeled followers like Joseph of Arimathea and Zaccheus, Jesus would’ve had a much harder time strolling around the countryside, preaching his particular brand of insurrection. Perhaps a better question is “Can we live the way Jesus advocated in today’s society?”
Probably not. Those first century followers Jesus was preaching to lived in an agrarian society with a barter economy where money was peripheral at best. We live in an industrial society with a currency-based economy where money rules. The majority of those folks lived a hand-to-mouth existence as subsistence farmers with very few possessions. We live in relative abundance with so much stuff we need places to store it. Most didn’t own the land they worked and likely never saw more than a few dollars cash their whole lives. Many of us own our homes and have some money in the bank. We also live in a world where not worrying about tomorrow isn’t really an option.
Does that mean we should toss out everything Jesus said and be selfish jerks? No, it doesn’t. It just means we must find a way to apply those teachings in today’s’ world. The best way to accomplish this would be to change our society to make that kind of life possible, but that would be difficult, to put it mildly. Not undoable, mind you, but difficult. It also won’t happen overnight, so what do we do in the meantime?
I’m thinking a different interpretation of the scriptures in question would help. Oh, don’t look at me like that. Everyone, even the most strident fundamentalist, interprets scripture; the trick is do it in way that doesn’t crap on others. In this case, instead of taking it literally, we could see Jesus’ words as a caution not value things over people. Or, we could understand them to mean there’s a difference between saving and hoarding; especially when that hoarding means we live like royalty while others starve. Basically, what I’m saying is yes, you can be rich and still be a Christian. Just don’t be an ass about it.