This week’s question was raised after a sermon on the rich and the poor from Luke 6.20-35. “Why is the church opposed to wealthy people? It seems like the only thing they want them for is their money, and lots of sermons I’ve heard lambaste the wealthy as if they were somehow to blame for the plight of the poor and solely responsible for relieving their plight.”
The passage in question is far too long to quote in its entirety, but in order to get a flavor of what the verses say let’s look at a few selected portions. “Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.…But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation….But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High’” (Luke 6.20-35, selected).
Anyone who knows anything about Jesus knows his attitude towards the poor. He spent most of his time with them, he healed them, he fed them, and he defended them at almost every turn. He also called them blest and, according to his teachings and his parables, Jesus clearly had a special place in his heart for them.
But what of Jesus’ attitude towards the wealthy? If we took the Lukan passage alone as an indication, it would seem that Jesus believed the rich were somehow cursed: “Woe to you who are rich…” (6.24). Indeed, Jesus spoke other words about the wealthy: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19.24). “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16.13). Jesus told a rich ruler to give away everything he owned if he wanted to have eternal life (Mark 10.17-22). A suggestion he reiterates in Luke 14: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (33). Finally, in Luke 6 he suggests that for the rich to be called a “child of God” they would have to “do good” and they would have to “give” (35). Just on this evidence alone, it would seem that Jesus really did have it in for the wealthy.
But that’s not only simplistic, it’s inaccurate. Clearly, Jesus has a good bit to say about the wealthy that isn’t easy to hear—especially if you happen to have sold when Microsoft was at $119 per share. But he neither excludes nor does he discourage the wealthy from becoming a disciple; indeed, he speaks to the heart of the “blessings of wealth.”
In the parable of the talents, a sum of money in ancient days, the servant who was given ten talents to manage for his master invested wisely. Another servant was given only one talent, but he did nothing to invest the money. When the master called for an accounting, he praised the servant who had invested well, but the other servant was thrown out of the household and the money was entrusted to the faithful servant to reinvest (Matthew 25.14-30). In other words, those who are faithful with their wealth will receive more. But notice, the additional wealth received is given with the expectation of increased faithfulness.
Further, Jesus not only spent his hours with the poor, he spent considerable time with the wealthy as well. For instance, Matthew, one of Jesus twelve apostles, was a tax collector—a profession that was lucrative even in the worst of times. Another friend of Jesus’ was Zacchaeus, another wealthy tax collector. When Zacchaeus came to know Jesus he announced that he’d give away half of what he owned to the poor and that he’d recompense those he may have defrauded twice the amount the scriptures required. With his announcement, Jesus responded that “salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19.9).
In the end, Jesus’ teaching about wealth is summed up simply in Luke 12.48b: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Although Jesus acknowledged that there would always be poor people (John 12.8), he taught that it was up to the wealthy to do as much as possible, not as much as is convenient, to provide relief for the poor (cf., Luke 12.33; 14.13).
But as for the church’s role in welcoming the wealthy: the Kingdom of God welcomes everyone, and the church must reflect that. Further, the church should expect no more from the wealthy than they do from anyone else. On the other hand, those who are wealthy should expect no more attention nor prestige in the church than the poorest, homeless beggar (James 2.1-4). In the end, the Bible has over 2,000 verses about the people of God meeting the needs of the poor, and Jesus spoke more about the place of wealth in the Kingdom of God than on any other subject—and that place seems to be the distribution of wealth to the poor. Thus it is the responsibility of everyone who would follow Jesus, from the rich to the poor, to selflessly and sacrificially serve those who are in need no matter what the cost—and it could cost a lot.