Managing our Wealth and our Investments

The Gospel Lesson from Luke 12:16-21, occurs within a larger context in Luke’s Gospel and the context helps us understand the lesson.   The immediate context is Luke 12:13-34.

One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”


The first thing to note is that the parable of the rich fool follows immediately upon Jesus warning against covetousness or greed.  Jesus does not believe that life is a game where whoever accumulates the most stuff wins.   Life is far more precious than how much you own or what you own.

What is wealth?   Not just property, money, material possession.   What about your relationship to the living God?   Is that not the most valuable commodity we can own?

There are countless other intangibles which are incredibly valuable to us, such as: salvation, health, wisdom, special talents, peace of mind, a loving family, good parish, long life, great job, good habits.  These are all priceless possessions for us, and can be had by people with no money.


According to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, our true investments are our every action toward family, friend, neighbor, stranger, the poor and enemy.  The profits from those investments await us in the Kingdom of God.

God will not ask you on the judgment day how your stocks fared on Wall Street.  He will not ask you whether you supported tax cuts or deregulation or what you rate of return was on your 401K.

And with all this in mind we hear Christ’s parable:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘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; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

God owns everything.   You might hear a priest say at the graveside before a burial these words:  The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who dwell therein. (Ps 24:1)  They remind us that we cannot take our wealth with us beyond the grave.  Our blessings are given to us to use for the benefit of others in this world.  God is the true owner of everything.  But he does seem to give us in the next life all the blessing we gave to those in need.

3754785121_5587ea2f09_nSt Basil the Great speaking to those who did not give much to charity in their life time but promised to leave a donation in their wills to the poor  upon their death, has them say:  “’when my life is over I will make the poor to inherit the things I formerly possessed, and in a written testament will declare them to be the owners of my property.’  When you no longer exist among human beings, then you become a lover of humanity.  When I see you dead, then I shall be able to say that you love your brother.  . . . when you are lying in the tomb, and decomposing into earth, then you … become big-hearted.”  (Sermon to the Rich)   Basil goes on to say, as you can’t do business after the market closes,  as you can’t win an Olympic medal when the games are over and as you cant show your valor once the war has ended, so too you can’t postpone godliness until the afterlife.

His comments have a humorous edge to them, and yet are deadly serious.

The message of the Gospel is not so much that you should never make provision for life, for your family, for the future, but that you should not be self-centered, self-absorbed, practicing self-preservation.  Christ speaks bluntly however against greed and covetousness and selfish excess.  Remember Christ’s own teaching that God’s commandments can be summed up in two precepts:  love God and love your neighbor. This is what the rich fool ignored.  He mentions no one but himself.

After the parable, Jesus went on to say:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith!


And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

What is the effect of prosperity on us Christians?    Does prosperity make us  more generous, loving , compassionate, merciful, kind, patient, peaceful, virtuous?  Does it help you to be a disciple of Christ?  to be a Christian?

Is prosperity the highest virtue in life which we should be pursuing with all our soul, heart, mind and strength?  What about with our investments, what should we be doing with them?


Don’t strive for riches, strive to hear the Word of God and live by Him.  That is what Christ taught.  You live in the world and you are not forbidden to be successful, but use your prosperity and blessings for the good of others.  Practice the commandment to love one another.

Prosperity is not a virtue, but a blessing.  Wealth is not a virtue but a blessing to be shared. The parable reminds us of the truth that  Money is a good servant, but a bad master.

Reflecting on Hebrews 11:24-12:2

The Epistle reading for the 1st Sunday of Great Lent is Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2.  The text gives us a lot to think about in terms of Great Lent but also our daily lives.

By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

The entire text is a challenge to anyone who wants to embrace the American prosperity gospel for its entire point is that though these people are the most faithful members of the household of God, none of them received the promised rewards in their lifetime, but all of them suffered.  They didn’t suffer because they were unfaithful, but precisely because they were faithful to God they suffered.  Thus Moses rejected the easy life and wealth that he shared as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  All the wealth of Egypt he disdained, choosing rather to suffer poverty, exile and 40 years of testing and wandering in the harsh desert so that he could be with the people of God.  He didn’t receive wealth and prosperity by being faithful to God – rather he had to disown that wealth and privileged lifestyle so he could be faithful to God.

For those of us who like to revel that we live in the richest country in the world and the richest country in the history of the world, Moses would say to us, better to choose affliction and suffering “with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”    All the wealth and prosperity of the richest country on earth cannot purchase life with God’s people.  Suffering and affliction are not signs that God has rejected you, but maybe signs that you are choosing God rather than the world, rather than mammon, rather than yourself.

Whatever sins the wealth of Egypt had to offer, America surpasses it in wealth and in sins.

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

As the author of Hebrews already said, “what more can I say?”  This is not prosperity Gospel thinking.  All of these people are the heroes of the Scripture, all of them are saints and examples to God’s people.  Yet all of them suffered affliction, and none of them received the promises of God.

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for …

The people mentioned above all proved themselves faithful to God, proved themselves to be children of God, proved themselves to be saints, proved themselves worth of God’s blessings and rewards.   But now the text takes a surprising turn.   These folk above – God’s chosen, God’s saints, God’s heroes, God’s faithful did not receive the promise.  

Why?   Because God had provided something even better for them. . . Right?

NO.  The text doesn’t say God provided something even better for them.

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

God provided something better for us, not for them.   They remained faithful to God, did not receive the promise fulfilled, but suffered affliction so that we might benefit from their faithfulness.  They weren’t suffering to benefit themselves, but to benefit us.  Talk about unselfish and altruistic behavior!   Not only did they not receive the promise for their faithfulness and their suffering, but they weren’t even suffering for their own benefit.  They weren’t going to get the reward at the end of their suffering – we were.  They knew of God’s promised blessings, and never received the reward, because they were living, suffering, dying in order that our generation might partake of the blessings.

We are called to have just that attitude.  We aren’t faithful to God so that we might receive the rewards of prosperity and blessings – but so that our children and future generations might know of God and choose to follow Christ, just like we have chosen.  Perfection for us is not obtained in this world, but only in and with the future generations that will receive the Tradition from us and pass it on to their descendants and the next new generation of Christians.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We are not to embrace the temptations and sins which prosperity provide to us, but to eschew them so that we can follow Christ.  We are to be with Christ wherever Christ is.  We are to live for the Kingdom and for all Christians yet to come, and not rely on prosperity today as a sign that we have obtained the promise.  For today’s prosperity can be a snare which entraps us and prevents not only us but future generations from obtaining the promised reward.

Roman Prosperity’s Opposition to Christ

What is the price of peace and the cost of having peacekeepers?

The cost can be measured in dollars, but that is only part of the price.  It also taxes our moral values.  It takes its toll upon our willingness to love our enemies as Christ taught us and to forgive one another.  We can lose our ideals and settle for what satisfies the bottom line or do what is immediate rather than what is important.  We can buy into false rationalizations that assuage our troubled consciences and prevent us from feeling cognitive dissonance over morally questionable actions.

And in the biblical wisdom that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), we also can learn from history on this point.

Emperor Nero

“The Pax Romana was a time of peace and prosperity for the empire. The development of cobble-stoned Roman roads facilitated commerce and the rapid movement of the Roman army. Anyone or anything that disturbed the Pax Romana was viewed as a threat to the great prosperity of the empire and was dealt with swiftly through violent police actions of the Roman army. Rome created peace through violence, while the emperor himself, Augustus, was the bringer of that peace.” (John Fotopoulos in Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pg. 22)

The Roman Empire thought Christ, whose Kingdom was not of this world, to be a threat to their peace and prosperity.   They crucified Him, and opposed His Church and martyred many of His followers.   Their vision of ‘national’ peace saw Christian values as a threat to Roman prosperity.  They vigorously and viciously persecuted the Christians.  They relied solely on the might of the army to maintain the peace, but in the end they lost the empire to the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace.

The 40 Martrys of Sebaste: The traded military might for martyrdom while serving Christ.

Resolutions for the Year of the Lord 2012

The old & the new

Some people make New Year’s Resolutions, but for many of us Christians, the resolve is one that we make related to our sacramental confessions – to do God’s will in all things.  Here are a few ideas from St. John Chrysostom for what we might commit ourselves to this year in our effort to follow Christ:

“The sources of our existence have been made common so that we all might live more securely. God has made you rich; why do you make yourself poor?   He has given you money, not to shut it away to feed your own destruction, but that you can pour it forth to the benefit of others and for your salvation.”

It is hard to convince ourselves that we can afford to tithe – or that we cannot afford not to tithe, since the tithe is the Lord’s to begin with.  Thankfulness of spirit can lead to joyful, generous giving.   Entitlement thinking – “everything I have is mine” – can lead to that poverty which Chrysostom mentions above – “you’ll never be rich because you are greedy” (as was told the baker in one of the legends explaining why he abandoned greed and began giving a baker’s dozen to his customers).  Thoughts like “I deserve wealth and prosperity” are also a form of entitlement thinking.  Entitlement thinking leads to seeing others as a threat – “they” want to take away my entitlements” – which causes us to lose love for one another.

“God has also made the possession of riches unstable so that the intensity of man’s madness for it might slacken. Let us not consider riches to be a great good.”

The instability of the economy, the stock market, investments and retirement funds – this is not merely the risks of capitalism, but Chrysostom says is part of God’s plan to teach us not to greedily trust in riches.  Obsessing over profit and prosperity is for St. John a form of insanity which possesses a great many people.   Wealth does not equal virtue.  Wealth in itself is not the greatest virtue (= good).  Love is the greatest virtue and good.

“The great good is not the possession of money, but to posses the fear of God and piety. A righteous man, even if he were the poorest of mortals, would need to but spread forth his hands toward heaven and call upon God, and the clouds would pass away! But gold, saved in abundance, is more useless than clay for delivering one from impending calamities.”  (St. John Chrysostom,The Rich in this World, pgs. 6-7)

The pursuit of happiness – a declared right for Americans.  Yet often we mistake the pursuit of wealth for this happiness.   Indeed wealth can give us a sense of power and well being, but that also can be deceptive.  Wealth is one of those things for which an appetite is never satisfied.  When is enough enough?   What are we willing to sacrifice to gain just 10% more?   Freedom or friendship or faith?  Are we willing to kill or force others into slavery and poverty so we can have 10% more wealth?

What is the relationship between loving God and neighbor and our own wealth or pursuit of happiness?   This is the moral question we must ask ourselves for our personal wealth can never be separated from the ethics taught by Christ in the Gospel.

The Truly Rich are Those who Give Their Wealth to Others

“The love of beautiful objects must not become purely selfish. If it does, we shall end up not knowing what the true beauty is like. It would be sad indeed if people were to say of us:

‘Their land, their slaves and their capital assets are worth fifteen millions, but they themselves are only worth three pennies.’

[…] We must continually repeat those amazing words of the Lord: ‘Sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, where there are neither robbers nor rust.’ (cf. Matt. 19:21; 6:20) The truly rich are not those who keep their riches to themselves but those who give to others. Happiness comes not from possessing wealth but from giving it away. Whatever is generously given away becomes a fruit of the soul. It therefore become’s the soul’s wealth.”   (Clement of Alexandria in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, pgs. 294 – 295)

Why WE NEED a Fast before Christmas

Why do we American Christians NEED a fast during the Christmas season?   One reason is because we embrace the values of capitalism as championed by Adam Smith.

“Adam Smith championed the social value of harnessing the instinctual drives of curiosity and self-interest within the framework of the marketplace to create a self-regulating economic order. […]Smith worried in his writings, as did many other thinkers of the time, that human envy  and our tendency towards compulsive craving, if left unchecked, would destroy the empathic feeling and neighborly concerns that are essential to his economic model and a free market’s successful operation.[…]In America, living with such an abundance of choice, we have discovered some disturbing facts about human behavior – facts that from knowledge of modern neurobiology are predictable and that confirm Smith’s worst fears. In times of material affluence, when desire is no longer constrained by limited resources, the evidence from our contemporary American experiment suggests that we humans have trouble setting limits to our instinctual craving.

This comes as little surprise to the behavioral neuroscientist, for it is now well established that under certain contingencies it is possible to ‘overload’ the reward circuits of the brain, triggering craving and insatiable desire. As the quintessential reward driven culture, America bears witness to this truth, for there is considerable evidence suggesting that unchecked consumption fosters our social malaise, eroding self-constraint and pulling the cultural pendulum toward excessive indulgence and greed. “(Peter C. Whybrow, American Mania: When More is not Enough, pgs. 7-8)

The Americanization of America

I finished reading Gordon Wood’s THE AMERICANIZATION OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.   An excellent biography of Franklin as well as a good American history book.  I had commented in a previous blog (Ben Franklin and the Americanization of Freedom ) about the opening chapters of the book in which Franklin was a loyal British citizen trying to preserve the unity of the British Empire.

The book traces the changes in Franklin’s thinking through time resulting in his becoming an American.  There is a parallel reality that America simultaneously was becoming American as well.  In many ways Franklin’s transformation happens as America itself is being born and transformed into an independent nation.

I want to offer a few quotes from the book  which were significant to me.  First, a quote about Britain, the nation Franklin loved but became totally disenchanted with.   Franklin criticized Britain for being blinded by

“… her Fondness for Conquest as a Warlike Nation, her Lust of Dominion as an Ambitious one, and her Thirst for a gainful Monopoly as a Commercial one.”  (p 166)

I have to wonder what he would have said about the USA today with our pride in being the greatest military power on earth and our constant willingness to make the military our main form of foreign policy.  Franklin saw in Britain what Eisenhower warned about in America – the military industrial complex.

The second quote deals with Franklin’s own self evaluation.

“… as Franklin disarmingly admitted, he  never had much success ‘in acquiring the Reality” of the virtue of humility, but he ‘had a good deal with regard to the Appearance of it.’  Humility, he said, had not been on his original list of virtues; he had added it only because a friend had told him that he was too proud.  Franklin was well aware of his pride and its near relation, vanity.  He had begun his Autobiography by admitting the overwhelming power of vanity.  ‘Most people,’ he had written in 1771, ‘dislike Vanity in others whatever Share they have of it themselves.’  But Franklin knew better.  ‘I give it fair Quarter whenever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of Good to the Possessor and to others that are within his Sphere of Action.’  … Pride, he conceded, was the hardest passion to subdue.  ‘Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself.’  ‘Even if he could completely overcome his pride, he would probably then be proud of his humility.’”  (p 207)

Wood points out in his book that interestingly America’s image and evaluation of Franklin through our history has changed as America changed.  As American attitudes toward agriculture, economy and capitalism morphed so did American ideas of who Franklin was and what he accomplished.  The notion of working hard to attain success amazingly enough was an American invention.  In Europe the rich did not work at all while the majority of people, the laborers, struggled to survive not to get ahead.

“… Franklin’s Autobiography had an inordinate influence on America’s understanding of itself.  Out of these repeated messages of striving and success not only did ordinary northern white men acquire a heightened appreciation of their work and their worth; they were also able to construct an enduring sense of American nationhood – a sense of America as the land of enterprise and opportunity, as the place where anybody who works hard can make it, as the nation of free and scrambling money-making individuals pursuing happiness.  This myth of American identity created during the several decades following the Revolution became so powerful that succeeding generations were scarcely able to question it.

Among the peoples of the world only Americans of the early republic, as their great observer Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out, celebrated work as ‘the necessary, natural, and honest condition of all men.’  What most astonished Tocqueville was that Americans thought not only that work itself was ‘honorable,’ but that ‘work specifically to gain money’ was ‘honorable.’” (p 243-244)

We no longer even have a sense of how radical an idea these notions of work for profit were to the 18th Century.  And it explains how “profit” became a virtue in America, perhaps the greatest and most important  virtue in American mythology.  Something which no one would have listed as a virtue prior to 19th Century America became central to the American value system.   Whereas prior to the Revolution Franklin with many other wealthy people believed it was only poverty and hunger which caused the working class to work (thus poverty was a positive motivating factor for the poor!), America changed the attitude of and toward the working class.  For it came to pass that working for profit became so highly valued in America.

“…said Tocqueville, ‘all see quite clearly that it is profit which, if not wholly then at least partially, prompts them to work.’”

Making profit a virtue is from an American point of view, America’s success.   It is the reinterpretation of Benjamin Franklin as an American that helped spur this development along.

A Heart of Gold or Gold Instead of a Heart?

“But there are others who carry their riches in their soul. Instead of being filled with God’s Spirit, their hearts are filled with their gold or their land…How can they desire or pay attention to the kingdom of heaven? They don’t carry around hearts in their bodies. Instead, they carry around land or precious metals…For where the mind of man is, there also is his treasure. (Matt.6:21)” (Clement of Alexandria, The One who Knows God, pg.25)

Theosis: Union with the Kenotic, Cruciform God

Kenotic =  self emptying

Cruciform = revealed inand by the crucifixion

I recently finished Michael Gorman’s book titled  INHABITING THE CRUCIFORM GOD:  KENOSIS, JUSTIFICATION, AND THEOSIS IN PAUL’S NARRATIVE SOTERIOLOGY which I read as part of my continued effort to understand the enigmatic St. Paul the Apostle.   The book is not a difficult read.   Gorman argues persuasively that once Paul converted to Christianity, he rejected violence as a means to bring about faith in God or as the way to purify religion (Gorman is reacting against  two recent articles which criticize Paul for simply moving from being a violent Jew to being a violent Christian).   He sees Paul embracing non-violence and peacemaking as a way of life.  

“God loves us while we were enemies, responding to our own violence and other sins, not with the infliction of violence but with the absorption of violence on the cross.  A life of nonviolence and reconciliation is therefore an integral part of Paul’s vision of justification and of participatory holiness – theosis.”

 Gorman sees this embrace of non-violence as part of his understanding of Theosis.  For Gorman Theosis means accepting the crucified Christ as the revelation of God’s love (only in Christ’s crucifixion do we fully realize what God’s love means); additionally our embrace of Christ means we should accept the cross in a similar way in our own lives as Christians.   

“Theosis is transformative participation in the kenotic, cruciform character of God through Spirit-enabled conformity to the incarnate, curcified, and resurrected/glorified Christ.”

 His message of self denial, self emptying (kenotic) and co-suffering love will not sit well with the prosperity Gospel types.

Gorman’s conclusion – in his own words – is theologically rich:

“Paul’s soteriology is best described as theosis, or transformation of the image of the kenotic, cruciform God revealed in the faithful and loving cross of Christ, and that Spirit-enabled theosis is the substance of both justification and holiness.   Justification is participatory and transformative, accomplished by co-crucifixion with Christ and embodied as holiness.”

His language may seem complicated, but he tries to use certain terms consistently through the book to show that Christ’s death on the cross is the revelation of God and god-likeness.

A book with a similar theme is Andrew Sopkos For a Culture of Co-suffering Love: The Theology of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo

The Folly of Wealth

While wealth and prosperity may be a blessing from the Lord, they represent a certain temptation, humanly speaking, for those trust in their wealth.   Our Lord Jesus told this parable:

 At that time, Jesus told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘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; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”   (Luke 12:16-21)

Wealth and prosperity are much welcomed and valued in this world, yet they are of no value in any life beyond this world.  They are thus the materialist’s best friend for getting through this life.   For those who believe in God, life in this world represents only a limited portion of the life in God – for God’s plan and Kingdom exist beyond the limits of death and this world.   Thus wealth and prosperity cannot be judged only for their value in this world but also for the impact they may have on life in the world to come.   St. John Chrysostom (sounding a bit like the Buddha) says that the wealth of this world is but a dream—when we die, we will awake from this dream and understand the true value of wealth.

Present realities, you see, are no better than a dream; rather, just as people imagining in sleep they have money, even in control of a king’s ransom, are more indigent than anyone once day dawns, so too with this life, because you can take nothing to the next, you will be more indigent than anyone, even if in possession of everyone’s property. You were rich in dream only, after all.”

Prosperity squandered on one’s self in this world is of no real benefit in this world for bringing about satisfaction nor in the world to come.  Profligacy and prodigality do not quench one’s selfish passions but rather inflame them.  Taking all one can get leads to wanting more, not to being satisfied let alone being generous.    Overeating leads to obesity to longevity.    Sharing one’s food, even with a modicum of ascetic self denial, can lead to longevity of life in this world, and eternal blessings in the life of the world to come.

Take a few minutes to read Leo Tolstoy’s HOW MUCH LAND DOES A MAN NEED?