If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about money. As we raise our four children, two of whom are now in university, the ongoing, nagging question my wife and I ask is always, “Will there be enough money?” By enough, of course, we mean, “Will there be enough to pay the bills, help with tuition, pay for kids’ activities, repair the car, and put supper on the table every night?”
Even though we are rich a hundred times over by global standards, we worry about money. But if we were really honest, we’d have to admit that our worry—longing, really—is rooted in what we would like to spend our money on. I’ll go even further. Our money worries are often about what we won’t be able to have as opposed to what we would be able to give away should we have more money. Do you ever dream about having more money so you would be able to give it away? Did you know that most people who play the lottery say they would give most if it away if they won, but studies show that lottery winners actually keep most of it to themselves and spend it irresponsibly?
If you’re like me, you are humbled by Jesus’ parable in Luke 21 of the widow who gave her remaining pennies:
While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box.2 Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
I remember thinking as a kid, “How hard could it be to give away two pennies?” The second half of Jesus’ final sentence in this parable should blow us away: “…she, as poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
Everything she has?! Let’s scale that up for a moment. Everything I have: my house, my van, my TV, my computer, my furniture, my tools, my appliances, my shoes for all occasions, my bi-weekly paycheck, my investments, my pension…. Does Jesus really expect me to give everything I have?
Recently I listened to a radio program about how the Canadian Mint is considering discontinuing the production of the penny. Each year, the mint creates 800,000 new pennies. The host of the radio program decided to go to the street and ask Torontonians their opinion of whether or not the penny should continue to be made. Most people interviewed said they never use their pennies but simply put them in some kind of container at home. It’s not worth the time, they say, to roll them up and bring them to the bank. Others said they’re a waste and not worth the production costs (estimated at 1.4 cents per penny). A couple of folks admitted to throwing away pennies because they weighed down their wallets.
Have we become so rich and blind that the significance of throwing away pennies doesn’t awaken us to the realities of the larger world where people are starving and don’t have a penny to their name and no means to earn one?
Jesus spent a lot of time talking about riches and rewards. In Matthew 19, someone asked Jesus, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why ask me what is good? There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
Of these two stories, which character do you most closely identify with? Is it the woman who gives up everything for others or the man who walks away sadly because he doesn’t want to give up what he has?
The response most Christians believe Jesus is asking for is that we give of ourselves selflessly. Does he truly mean for us to give up everything? Maybe not. Does he mean re-evaluating our priorities when we spend more money on Internet and cable services than we give to the church? I’d say so. Does he mean taking a hard look at our time resources when we spend more time watching, thinking about, and discussing NFL teams from faraway cities than we do about trying to help the poor in our own city? I’d say that’s a rhetorical question. Can your hours as a software developer, stay-at-home dad, or saleswoman be simultaneously devoted to the will of Jesus? I would say that they can. But it takes deliberate effort.
Thankfully, God’s grace and Jesus’ death on the cross and our belief in him is what gives us eternal life. No matter how much we give away, we can never earn eternal life. But when we ask the Holy Spirit into our hearts and devote to God our every moment engaged in the culture, we get close to what Jesus is talking about when he says give up everything and devote your life to him.
I saw a t-shirt once that said, “It’s the dash not the cash.” It’s not your birth date or your death date that you see on a gravestone that matters—it’s the dash. Isn’t that amazing? Our entire lives amount to a punctuation mark between two dates. Your life and mine are very small in the long story of creation. But God expects full devotion of that dash.
The apostle Paul, who devoted his life to building the church and spreading the good news of Jesus wrote a letter to the church of Corinth in 2 Corinthians 6 to describe the hardship he and his fellow missionaries endure for the joy of bringing “spiritual riches to others.” Paul became both the widow and the rich young man by giving up everything to be a missionary. Isn’t it amazing how God can transform us? Will you let him transform you? Listen to Paul’s words, and may they be transformational to you:
We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
Ron DeBoer is an educator and writer near Toronto, Ontario.