Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
It speaks of independence, whispering tales of power and control. It points to freedom of action and release from restraint, and it serves as a token for our standing in life, our successes or lack of them, our prospects and our place in the order of society.
We have all been taken by one or all of these voices: subtle, insinuating, persuasive and beguiling.
And the reality behind that voice is money. It plays to our inmost weaknesses and it appeals to every social sense that we have.
To an economist, money is a medium of exchange, which allows us to buy and sell without resorting to barter. It can be handled and accumulated in small portions and yet it provides a unit of account for our transactions. When kept and not spent then it stores the value of the hours that it took to gain and accumulate it.
In short it tells us who we are, without recourse to social or spiritual considerations. And perhaps that is the point for it suggests an escape from moral and spiritual restraint on our desires and instincts.
Small wonder that people desire it, search for it, are so taken up with it that it defines who they are and what are their prospects. Yet the market where money is given in exchange for goods or services is no more than that place where people meet, and the values of the market are the values of those who buy and sell in it.
In itself the market is morally neutral: but it provides a moral and spiritual mirror to our times by measuring and recording the things that we want and those what we do not; the things that we value and the things that we despise.
It is always easier to criticize the market when our reproaches should really be directed at those who buy and sell in it.
Small wonder then that Paul describes the love of money as the root of all kinds of evil. He does not comment on money itself – for it is morally neutral. Rather Paul places our use of and attitudes to money under the proverbial microscope. It is our inordinate love of it, pursuit of it, hoarding of it, use of it to control and abuse others, and finally to use it as a means of avoiding the moral demands of righteousness and justice, and indeed of our need to be made right with God in the blood of Jesus.
For Jesus, it was his very wealth that made the rich man blind and deaf to the needs of the beggar at his gate. He could have relieved need easily and indeed discretely, but preferred to keep Lazarus there, desperate for anything – and yet pointedly refusing any kind of aid or comfort.
For Jesus it was more than just neglect or blindness: it was a deliberate and calculated rejection of Lazarus so that he might be humiliated and abused by all who passed by.
It is as if the rich man needed Lazarus to point up his own status and importance.
And so when the time came, there was indeed a judgment, and the rich man was reduced to memories and regrets while Lazarus – who you note is still named while the rich man is always nameless – was restored to his own place and identity in the heart so his father Abraham.
This is far more than a parable about money – it is also about being and belonging and the rich man had already abandoned his identity as a son of Abraham. Otherwise he would indeed have gone out of his way to succour Lazarus.
But no: the enticements of the rich, have-it-all society, the contempt for those who had not, for whatever reason, succeeded were all too alluring to be resisted.
But Jeremiah gives a quite different approach.
Jerusalem was surrounded by enemies and would fall, yet Jeremiah was instructed to buy a plot of land in an area already occupied by the Babylonians.
As a prudent financial investment, it was madness, but Jeremiah was not looking at the rate of return on the outlay. Rather he was banking on a promise by God.
The promise was that in due course Jerusalem would be restored, even if not in the hands of the present generation who had already despised and rejected the Lord God of Israel, the law of Moses and the principles of honest worship and honest dealings.
The current generation could not now hear the word of God or the promises He made to His people. But Jeremiah’s investment was not secured by the current political or military situation. Rather he was investing in the promises of God, and was placing his trust in the things that God said and did and demanded of His people.
For us, in a world where money is now created in banks by the touch of a few keys and where it is measured by 1s and 0s in batteries of computers, we may indeed wonder what is the use and purpose of money, and how it should indeed be valued and used.
For Jesus, money is there for doing good to others, honouring God and serving one another. It is a good servant and a dreadful master and must be kept in proper perspective.
For Paul the inordinate love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and we dare not measure or judge ourselves or anyone else by it.
For Jeremiah it serves the needs of the day and is a means by which we may put our trust in the promises of God.
For us, it has little intrinsic value but mediates some of the quality of our relationships and transactions. And in this it is an accurate but unflattering mirror.