Be Careful...


August 14, 2013

The bumper sticker read: “Dear God, All I Ask is the Opportunity to prove that Winning the Lottery Won’t Change Me.”

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.” Be careful about what? About all kinds of greed. There are many.

The most obvious is the greed exemplified when I was a kid by Uncle Scrooge McDuck, who would totally lose control of his mind when he caught “gold fever” and went off on some wild goose chase to find more riches than the trillions he already had in his money bin (the object of desire for the Beagle Boys, who were always constructing fantastic plots to deprive Scrooge of his riches).

It was never said in so many words, but you got the message that Huey, Dewey and Louie (who usually saved the day for Uncle Scrooge as they thwarted the sinister plots of the Beagle Boys by following the Junior Woodchuck Manual), the three nephews who lived with poor, hapless, and futureless Uncle Donald Duck were the ones you would want to emulate.

But there was always that money bin, so filled that McDuck would go for a daily swim in his loot. McDuck was greedy. So were the Beagle Boys.

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

The pay to an NBA Rookie this season ranges from a base of $850,000 to $4.26 Million. A bench warmer on an NFL team can collect a minimum of $850,000, officials in the NFL earn 20-70K per year (working one day a week!), Major League Baseball players earn a top salary of  $30 Million (Alex Rodriguez) and a minimum salary of $490,000. By contrast, the average pay for teachers is $46,000, for Firefighters in major cities is $40,000-76,000 and policemen earn between $41,000-90,000.

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

Sports and entertainment figures are valued very highly in our culture. Those who protect us are deemed less worthy, even less so those who nurture and train our children. We place a high price on entertainment…a very high price.

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

It is greed to want to become LeBron or A-Rod or Peyton Manning because they make so much money. It is greed to desire their fame, prestige, and influence.

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

There are some people whose greed is for the affirmation of others. They are known as “people pleasers” and it is yet one more form of dysfunctional behavior. Without even realizing what they are doing, they give off the appearance of someone who is helpful, organized, energetic, ready to take on any new task, cooperative, outgoing…but inside there are these embedded fears of rejection, loss of approval, value, importance. So they try harder and fall deeper into the morass of loneliness, depression, and identity crisis.

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

In the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus sets out the nature of greed. Like all sin, it turns us inward, shutting us off from God and others. Listen to this epitome of arrogance: “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” My barns, my grain, my goods, my soul.

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

All greed does this – the greed of jealousy…the greed of status…the greed of addiction…the greed of fame, possessions, talents…the greed of wealth. They all turn our thinking inward: “How can I have what she has? When will I get to the top? Where is my next fix? When will my name be up in lights, my house filled with more junk than my neighbors? When will my uniqueness finally be discovered and the accolades due to me finally descend?”

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

The greed of wealth, though, is likely the most destructive. And all the more so when we, who are wealthier by far than ninety percent of the world’s population, refuse to acknowledge the wealth that is ours. “I’m no Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. I can hardly manage to keep my house over my head,” we say as we speak to our spouses in a different vehicle over the cell phone so that he/she can pick up food on the way home from work (since you are both working) – to that home that by the standards of Africa, Asia, South and Central America would be regarded as palatial.

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

Because wealth, quicker than anything else, inserts that wedge between God and us. Any level of wealth does this. Our natural, sinful bent inward tells us that we are secure. But the reality is that, in that moment, we have lost all security. Whenever we place our identity in something we can lose, we’ve had it! So don’t do that! Don’t place your identity in your family, your job, your career, your reputation, your status in the community, your wealth. Luther grasped this: “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”

“Be Careful!” Jesus says, “be very, very careful.”

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” St. Paul counsels us, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Your life is hidden…even from you. Oh, we think we have the future planned: our annuities, our stock options, our retirement plans. Who, my age or younger, is feeling all that bold about the support we can expect from Social Security in our futures? Not too many. And so we get stuck on what might or might not be. We zero in on what we could lose.

“NO!” Says Paul. Redirect your thinking (or to quote Luther again: “Your thoughts are too human!”). Get out of the greed business and get on with God’s business. The only thing you really have is Christ and His Kingdom. Everything else, all that we consider so important, nay vital, is, to quote the Preacher, “Vanity”…emptiness.

My father often remarked: “Whether you’re rich or poor, it’s nice to have money.” Yes, it is nice to have money. Money can, in many ways, make life easier. Conversely, as Tevye prays in Fiddler on the Roof, “God, it’s no great shame to be poor. But its no great honor, either.” The problem is not the money itself or the lack thereof. The problem is always where we place our attention — on ourselves…or on God. If God chooses to bless you with abundance, that’s what God chooses to do. Thank Him.

But listen to Jesus: “Be Careful! Be very, very careful.”


About the Author

Christian Just is Pastor of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Northfield, Ohio. He earned a Doctor of Ministry in Formational Counseling from Ashland Seminary and serves as an Adviser to D.Min students in that program. He lives in Macedonia, Ohio with his wife, Kristine, and son, Levi. His daughters and three grandchildren live nearby.              

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