Live Free Bible Study Week 3

Live Free DoveFree from the Uncertainty of Riches

A Bible Study by Dan Sturdivant

Downpour Economics

Text: As for those who are rich, command them not . . . to set their hopes on the uncertainty or riches,

but rather on God who richly provides. — 1 Timothy 6:17

Pray: God of inexhaustible grace, release me during this time of reflection from my insecurity, from my anxieties over what I possess and what I might lose. Imbue me with your desire for me, so much so that I cannot deny it is the only wealth worth having. As I ponder your word today, may Jesus’s heart beat within my own and ease my worries over what I shall eat, what I shall wear, and whether what I have and hold is enough. In Christ is all my abundance. And in his name, I pray. Amen.

Read: Luke 12:13-21

Consider: In the 1980s we learned trickle-down economics, the theory that if we decrease the burden of taxation on the wealthiest Americans, they would invest their additional income. This would stimulate the economy and generate jobs; tax revenues would rise, and benefits would accrue—or, trickle all the way down to the poorest among us. How well you think this has worked probably depends on your tax bracket. History will likely decide that this theory reveals more about the anxieties of holding onto wealth than it does about the efficiencies of markets. In any case, Jesus didn’t buy it, as the parable of the rich fool makes clear.

Biblical tradition has left us with a double bind when it comes to wealth, or so it seems. On the one hand, though we hardly need the Bible to infer that prosperity is a sign of divine favor, it tells us so anyway. Deuteronomy 8:11-20 lays out the basic scheme: those who keep faith with God’s covenant prosper; those who don’t are left wanting (and how! See Deut 28). On the other hand, Jesus tells us it will be nigh on to impossible for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. No doubt the irreconcilability of these two positions contributes to the general anxiety around wealth, at least for Christians. It certainly doesn’t help.

And yet, be not afraid, all you of ample means! In truth there is no contradiction here. Prosperity is in every way a sign of God’s favor. What we find in Deuteronomy and throughout the Hebrew Bible is this: the “you” of Deuteronomy is plural. God’s promise of prosperity is to the covenant community, to all Israel, not only to individuals. Any one person’s wealth is a blessing to the whole community, if and only if it is conscientiously earned, mindfully managed, and invested with a compassionate and generous heart.

If you live lavishly without any heed at all given to those who live in squalor, it falls outside the lines of God’s promise. If you enrich yourself at the expense of the community (or someone in a sweatshop a world away), it defies the covenant and endangers the community by polarizing it. Take a look at Isaiah 5 .

The basic scheme of prosperity as blessing helps explain Jesus’s position vis-à-vis the rich. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required,” he says later in Luke 12 (v. 48b; cf. 8:18, 19:26). However it doesn’t explain why camels will pass through a needle’s eye more readily than the wealthy will enter the kingdom of God. What Jesus understood about human nature is that not only can the acquisition and keeping of wealth be all-consuming, it can too easily become mammon—reverence for wealth for its own sake and for the autonomy (i.e., power) it confers. I also suspect that Jesus was well aware that the association of prosperity with divine favor was itself a seduction. If God has blessed me, it must be because I am more deserving than others; thus, charity to those less deserving squanders God’s blessing. Sound familiar?

God’s covenant faithfulness, embodied anew in the Gospels, rejects trickle-down economics and its ideological ilk. What’s required is a bit more fluid, if you will: downpour economics. God pours down blessing. Some of our cups catch more of it than others and fill to overflowing. Let us not, as in the parable of the rich fool, just increase the size of our cups. Let us instead tip them so that God’s downpour might flood the earth.

Read: ReadLuke 12:13-21 again. Read slowly, with a generous and humble heart. Be attentive to any insecurities that might arise or any ambivalence. Take note if you find yourself negotiating with the text—that is, rationalizing why its teaching doesn’t apply to you. If you are disturbed in spirit, that is fine; use it as fodder for your prayer. You might look for comfort in Mark 10:17-27 (notice v. 21!) and Matthew 6:25-34.

Pray: for God to ease any anxieties or irritation you may be experiencing. In any case, ask God to reveal to you how the blessings of your life might be poured out as blessing to others. Bring this time of reflection to a close with the Lord’s Prayer.
Dan Sturdivant is an elder in the United Methodist Church and is pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in San Ramon, California. Ministry is a second career for Dan; he worked as an actor in film, TV and theater in Los Angeles until 1994, when he left to attend seminary at Pacific School of Religion. He is currently finishing a book about the role of blessing in rescuing God from exile.

Leave a Reply