What does money mean to you?
For many of us, I think, money means safety and security. We depend on money to feed us, clothe us, house, us, provide medical care for us, transport us, and educate us. Money puts gates around our neighborhoods, fences around our yards, and alarms on our doors. Money means safety and security.
Money means value, especially personal value. Money tells us how much we are worth and how much we count. We can’t be ordinary—can we?—if we live in a trendy neighborhood, wear clothes that make a statement, have kids who go to the best schools, take vacations to exclusive places, and surround ourselves with comfort and luxury? We have to be special—don’t we—if we have even just a little bit more of whatever it is we treasure than does the person to whom we compare ourselves? In our culture, money means value.
Money also means fulfillment, and it would be hard to exaggerate how empty some people feel. Boredom has left their minds barren. Dullness has drained their hearts of feeling. Tedium has worn holes in their spirits, and vitality has seeped-out. Loneliness has leeched-away love. Hurt has hollowed them out. People are starving and thirsty, but they’re not sure what they’re actually hungry for, so they become a vast mass of desires, trying first one thing and then another to take away the hunger. Centuries ago, Augustine confessed, “"I fell away from you, my God, and I went astray, too far astray from you, the support of my youth, and I became to myself a land of want."
Because money can buy bread for our stomachs, we also look to the things and experiences money can buy to fill our aching inner emptiness. Because money can buy beautiful things, we surround ourselves with them, hoping to absorb some of their beauty into our drab inner worlds. When we’re filling our shopping bags with stuff, we’re hoping it will fill the gnawing void in our spirits. For many of us money means fulfillment.
Because money promises to keep us safe, and give us value, and fill up our inner emptiness, we place more trust in it than it can bear. Money means more to us than it should.
Here’s what I believe: Money can never deliver everything it promises, and to live our lives for no higher purpose than the pursuit of money is to turn ourselves into something less than human. No matter how much we have or get, we’ll always want more.
Jesus had a lot to say about money; and some of what he said was quite radical. He warned us about money's seductive power and cautioned us to do whatever we have to do—including giving it all way—to keep money from running our lives.
Sometimes, Jesus spoke with a moderate voice on the subject of money, and pointed his followers to a life of creative stewardship in which we recognize that everything we have is a gift from God, enjoy what we have, use it wisely, and learn to be increasingly generous, especially toward the poor.
Consistently, he urges us not to let our concerns for status, success, and security to keep us from real life—a life free from anxiety and fear, filled with abundant meaning and overflowing with joy. He invited us to trust him more than we trust money, and to know that the things which matter most in life—grace, peace, hope, and love—are all gifts.