Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” —Matthew 4:8-10
In April of 2011 a 17-year-old Chinese high school student named Wang made news around the world after it was discovered that he had sold one of his kidneys to buy an iPhone and an iPad. His mother later reported that Wang had received $3,500 for his kidney and only after receiving the money, decided he would buy the tech devices with it; but his story became a kind of parable of confused values and the lure of money. Five persons were arrested for luring the 17-year-old to sell his kidney, including the surgeon who harvested his kidney.
We are shocked by such stories of misguided and potentially deadly acts in pursuit of more, yet the story of the economic crisis that unfolded first in the U.S. and then around the world beginning in 2008, which continues to shape our economy years later, is the same story writ large. Americans mortgaged their future to have their iPads and iPhones, big screen televisions, and mini-mansions. Even those who were not living beyond their means were benefitting from the increase in the stock market and housing markets that resulted form unbridled spending.
Jesus, too, was tempted by wealth. It was the fact that he knew its allure that allowed him to teach so powerfully on both. He taught his disciples that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” He preached that you cannot serve both God and money. He taught and modeled for his disciples that “the one who would be great among you must become your servant.” In this temptation he came face to face with the lure of wealth and power and said, “No! For it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'”
In what ways do you struggle with materialism? How much energy do you devote to “storing up treasures on earth”? Jesus was right to associate this temptation with false worship. Without even realizing it, we can make the desire for wealth our idol.
Jesus knew the lure of these things, and he sought to show us a better way. Wealth is not evil in and of itself. But Paul rightly tells us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” He offers the antidote when he tells us to “do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up…the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of the life that really is life.” (I Timothy 6:18-19)
Lord, you know what it is to be tempted by the desire for riches. Help me to say no to the false gods of wealth and power. Instead help me to worship and serve only you, being generous and ready to share. Amen.