9/29 Readings: A Rule for the Rich

16 Pentecost

Jer. 32:1-3a, 6-15 [Amos 6:1a, 4-7]
Ps. 91:1-6, 14-16 [Ps. 146]
I Tim. 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

The biblical diatribe against the rich is not a condemnation of riches. Indeed, those who are rich have a rule of life set before them, a way to be both wealthy and spiritually well. “As for those who in the present age are rich,” writes the author of the First Letter to Timothy, “command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes of 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” (I Tim. 6:17-19). What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses the life that is really life? The rich need God because God provides everything, even life itself; and the rich need to give and share because generosity increases personal and communal joy.

By world standards, the few that read these words are likely among the rich, unconcerned about daily survival and surrounded by creature comforts unimaginable for most of human history. So, the rule of life applies: (1) Be not haughty; (2) Set not your hope on uncertain riches; (3) Hope in God who provides everything; (4) Do good; (5) Be rich in good works; (6) Be generous and thereby store up the treasure of a good foundation for the future; (6) Seek God, the life that is really life. In this way, and by the inward and assisting grace of God, a rich person need not, in the end, look up from Hades, a place to torment and flames, to cry for help from Father Abraham and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-24). If a rich person has shown mercy in this present life, God will show mercy and reveal love and unfold heavenly treasures. Riches, nonetheless, are a risk and involve serious temptations.

This is proven every day. “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” (I Tim. 6:9). One of the most serious dangers is a creeping and growing indifference to human need, a sense of entitlement about wealth as merely one’s own coupled with a conviction that those who are less well-off or needy have only themselves to blame. Listen as the prophet Amos describes the danger, and notice that it isn’t luxury itself he condemns.

“Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of harps, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils” (Amos 6:4-6a). There is a measure of the good life in this description, but it is spoiled by these words: “but they are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph” (Amos 6:6b). The wealthy, in this context, care not for the common good and are indifferent to injustice. The prophet speaks for God, “You trample on the poor and take from them levies of the grain . . . you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate” (Amos 5:11-12).

The rich have their temptations, but they also have opportunities for great gain in godliness. This takes discipline and humility and a determined generosity rooted in mercy. This is hard, but not impossible.

Look It Up:  I Tim. 6:17-19

Think About It:  Make this a Rule of Life.


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