St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy provides a reminder that God’s call on our lives crosses the boundaries of income and class. When we read the thundering prophets of the Old Testament we may be tempted to ask, as in the Gospel of Luke (18:26), “Who then can be saved?”
Certain themes are clear throughout Scripture: God wants dignity and justice for the poor; God hates haughtiness and greed; God expects Christians to care for the suffering and oppressed. Amid these recurring themes, it may be a temptation to respond with guilt and shame, whether as reasons to change our ways or as a substitute for repentance.
Remember the wry exchange between a neurotic talent agent and a mobster’s mistress in Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose:
Danny Rose: “My rabbi, Rabbi Perlstein, used to say we’re all guilty in the eyes of God.”
Tina Vitale: “Do you believe in God?”
Danny Rose: “No, no. But I’m guilty over it.”
God does not want Christians mired in the narcissism of self-loathing, or helping the poor only because we fear divine judgment. Nor does Scripture assume that the rich are beyond redemption or more inherently sinful than the rest of humanity.
Hear God’s concern and guidance for the rich, through the writing of St. Paul:
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
Further, hear God’s guidance for all of us, again from Paul:
There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains (1 Tim. 6:9-10).
Whatever our social status, our deliverance is simple. Be content. Reject greed. Show generosity. Choose humility rather than haughtiness. Remember that you are not God.
Look It Up: Find a passage in the New Testament that challenges you not to be complacent about your life but also gives you hope that through Christ you are redeemed.
Think About It: In what ways do you apply St. Paul’s guidance, written to Christians in the earliest decades of the Church’s life, to your life in the 21st century?