Great Men and Riches

Holy Scripture enjoins us to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth, and there are more than a few parables in which the bad guy is the rich guy. It has led generations of Christian preachers to wage war against mammon, romanticize poverty and declare the high virtue of being prudently middle class. I’ve often wondered if we’ve used Jesus’ words mostly as ammunition to cover our own envy of those who have come to know an abundance of material wealth. Among the few truly great men I’ve known, my dad first and foremost among them, some have been men of considerable wealth. One, my friend Carl, died rather suddenly and unexpectedly a few days ago. By the good fortune of his business successes he was able to afford whatever his heart desired for himself and his family. Indeed he loved his toys, and had a large collection of them. But they were never more than toys, and he took as much delight in sharing them with his friends as a young boy takes in showing off a new football or bicycle. Occasionally wrong, but never in doubt, he could be loud, boisterous and publicly demanding on political issues he deemed important to the community. But he was always quietly and anonymously generous in supporting works that revitalized neighborhoods, saved historical buildings, provided low-income housing and helped build churches. In other words, he was a rich man who was not owned by his riches, a wise man who was not owned by his wisdom, a generous man who was not foolish in his generosity, and above all a man of godly integrity. I suspect that he always knew he was but a steward of all that God had put into his hands. To whom in scripture might we compare such men? Perhaps Abraham, Jacob of his later years, his son Joseph of Egypt, possibly Isaiah or Jeremiah, certainly Joseph of Arimathea, and maybe Lazarus. How about some of those who offered their homes to Paul to get congregations started?

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