Money is not the problem. Money is neutral in itself; it’s simply a means to facilitate commerce and trade in our daily lives. Having money is also not the problem: there are many examples, particularly in the Hebrew Scriptures, of people who considered their wealth a gift from God, and used their wealth to help and benefit others. It’s not money itself, but the love of money that poses a dangerous threat.
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul is criticizing a group of what he calls “false teachers” whose “love of money” taints and motivates their behavior and teaching. They are supposedly teaching the Christian faith, but they are doing so for their own personal gain. They are more interested in profits than in people.
Lest his hearers fall into a similar trap, Paul outlines some of the dangers of an excessive love of money. First, he says, we should recall that “we brought nothing into the world… and we can take nothing out of it.” Our lives do not revolve around money or possessions or the status that they may bring us.
Amos 8: 4-7
Luke 16: 13
Today is the third week in this Season of Creation. During this week two pieces of Scripture have ‘grabbed’ me. They are by two very different prophets, and I’ve been praying with both passages. The first is our reading today from the prophet Amos. It’s harsh and fiery. He pronounces God’s judgment on the wealthy who, full of greed, oppress the poor, and who see the fruits of the earth simply as sources of illegal profit. “We will offer wheat for sale and practice deceit, with false balances.” As I prayed with it I had in my mind those terrible images of the violent rape of the Amazon rain forest, the wholesale destruction of the earth’s ‘lungs’, for profit.
But the other passage I have been praying with could not be more different. They are words from Amos’s fellow 8th century prophet, Micah. It is one of the most beautiful words of prophecy in all scripture. It is a vision of hope and healing. “In days to come, nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall all sit under their own vines, and under their own fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.” I love that image of complete contentment. As I prayed with these words I remembered that unforgettable day during the Fall, some five years ago when I was on retreat at Emery House. I was sitting in a simple wooden chair on the deck of the Zen hut, watching with utter joy and wonder, as the leaves of the trees gently fell, hour after hour. I knew something of Micah’s vision of peace and contentment.
Check out these practices to help you get in touch with contentment in your life:
Can you give thanks for what is throughout your day?
How do you fill the time when you’re waiting?
What are you living for?
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Click on the links below to read selected articles from the Summer 2016 Cowley Magazine:
- Br. Curtis Almquist explores the monastic principle of contentment, with practical advice for how to integrate contentment into our lives.
- New and Abiding Friends of SSJE—Gates & Pat Agnew, Julie H. Quaid, Mark Delcuze, Laura Chessin, Dr. Norman “Sam” Steward, Jr., Char Sullivan, Jane Buttery, and Scott Christian —share their experiences of the Monastery and Emery House.
- A simple web search led to a dramatic change of life: Br. Jim Woodrum shares his story of vocation.
- The Director of the Fellowship, Br. Jonathan Maury, shares his vision for how and why members might keep the FSJ Rule.
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An ancient monastic principle about inner freedom: freedom to be fully alive is found in the context of limitation. This is quite counter-cultural. In western society we are identified as “consumers” in a market economy that is constantly alluring us with dissatisfaction, where what is next or what is new is promised to be better than what is now. We hear the pitch, “You can have it all … and you should,” as if more is more and never enough. Monastic wisdom counters this delusion with the elixir of “contentment,” a word which comes to us from the Latin contentus: to be satisfied or contained. Less is more. The grace of contentment presumes that what is, is enough.