Lectionary Commentaries for September 25, 2016
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 16:19-31

Barbara Rossing

Unique to Luke is the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

It follows last week’s parable about a rich man and Mammon. The entire chapter can be entitled “Rich Men and Lovers of Money,” suggests Alan Culpepper, in order to underscore the thematic unity of the two parables.1 The rich man’s sumptuous feasting (“making merry,” euphrainomenos) also echoes the “eat, drink, and be merry” boast of the man with bigger barns in Luke 12:19.

With its vivid journey to the afterlife, and its exaggerated imagery of contrast, this parable fits the form of an apocalypse. An apocalypse serves as a wake-up call, pulling back a curtain to open our eyes to something we urgently need to see before it is too late.

During his life the rich man did not even see the poor man who was at his gate each day. Now, in the afterlife, he sees Lazarus — but too late. The parable portrays a permanent chasm fixed between the rich man and poor Lazarus, with no way to cross over the chasm. The exaggerated apocalyptic contrasts are many: the lavish meals of the rich man’s table in life, contrasting with his unquenchable thirst after death; the deathly poverty of Lazarus, contrasting with his rest in the bosom of Abraham. These contrasts underscore the parable’s function as urgent warning.

Where does Luke intend the audience to see itself in this parable? The image of vindication in Abraham’s bosom is a wonderful one, offering comfort for those in Luke’s audience and those in the world today who are as poor as Lazarus. The image of resting in the bosom of Abraham inspired the African American spiritual “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” But beautiful as this image is, the primary message of this parable is probably not comfort.

In Martin Luther’s day, the parable inspired much speculation about where we go after we die.2 The location of the bosom of Abraham in relationship to heaven, and whether we go there immediately following death, or must wait for the resurrection at the Last Day, were the primary concerns for Luther and his contemporaries — also inspiring Luther’s critique of purgatory. In a 1523 sermon on this parable Luther argued that the bosom of Abraham was not a place, but the Word of God. “Thus were all the fathers before the birth of Christ carried into Abraham’s bosom; that is at death they were established in this saying of God and fell asleep in the same, they were embraced and guarded as in a bosom, and sleep there until the Day of Judgment.”3 In other writings, Luther struggled to clarify the relationship between death as sleep awaiting the Last Day, and the role of Sheol and the bosom of Abraham in the interim time.

But the parable was probably not originally intended as didactic explanation of the afterlife. To understand the meaning, we should turn to the three responses of Abraham denying the rich man’s requests to “send Lazarus” (Luke 16:24, 27). Tenderly but firmly, Abraham refuses each of the rich man’s requests. He even calls the rich man “child,” making clear that being a child of Abraham is no guarantee of salvation. For the rich man, it is too late. Abraham will not send Lazarus to help the rich man after death.

Apocalypses often have a hortatory function. With their exaggerated imagery apocalypses offer a wake-up call, a warning, like the dream sequences of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.4 If this parable is an apocalypse, then Luke is situating the audience not so much in the role of either Lazarus or the rich man, but in the role of the five siblings who are still alive. (The Greek word adelphoi can also be translated “siblings” — it includes sisters as well as brothers.) The five siblings who are still alive have time to open their eyes. They have time to see the poor people at their gates, before the chasm becomes permanent. “Send Lazarus to them, that he might warn them,” cries the rich man on behalf of his brothers and sisters, “so that they do not come to this place of torment.” The terrifyingly vivid apocalyptic journey to Hades awakens a sense of urgency on the part of Luke’s audience.

We are those five siblings of the rich man. We who are still alive have been warned about our urgent situation, the parable makes clear. We have Moses and the prophets; we have the scriptures; we have the manna lessons of God’s economy, about God’s care for the poor and hungry. We even have someone who has risen from the dead. The question is: Will we — the five sisters and brothers — see? Will we heed the warning, before it is too late?

In Luke’s wonderful imagery, Abraham’s bosom awaits to enfold us in loving arms now and after our death.


1 Alan Culpepper, “Luke” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9 (Abingdon, 1995) 315.

2 See James Kroemer, “Doctor Martin, Get up”: Luther’s View of Life After Death,” in Deanna Thompson and Kirsi Stjerna, eds., On the Apocalyptic and Human Agency: Conversations with Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014), p. 40. Kroemer chronicles Luther’s gradual rejection of the concept of purgatory in favor of the conviction that souls “sleep” until the Day of Judgment, drawing on Luther’s sermons as well as his commentary on 1 Corinithians.

3 WA 10 III:177-200. Kroemer states that “The translation is from Sermons of Martin Luther IV, ed. John Nicholas Lenker (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 16-38. WA gives June 22, 1522 as the date of the sermon.”

4 See Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation p. 85-86 on this parable as an apocalypses.

First Reading

Commentary on Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Rolf Jacobson

The Old Testament reading of this Sunday is from the prophet Amos, as it was last Sunday.1

For some background reading about the prophetic concept of justice, see last week’s Old Testament commentary. For a brief introduction to the prophet Amos, see either the article on Amos on the EntertheBible.org website, or my article, “What Every Christian Should Know about Amos and Hosea,” in Word & World 28:2 (Spring 2008) 182-191.

This passage, like most from the prophet Amos, is a message of judgment. If one chooses to preach on Amos this week, it would be good to remember three things about interpreting judgment passages. The first is that God’s anger is not the opposite of God’s love, as many people tend to think. Rather, God’s judgment is an expression of God’s love. Because God loves people, when one person or group of people cause others to suffer, God gets angry. This anger is a sign of God’s love for those who are oppressed.

Second, God’s anger and judgment exist in order to get people to change their harmful behavior. God does not delight in being angry. Quite the opposite. Over and over, the Old Testament tells us that God delights in showing mercy and in forgiving. God expresses anger in order to bring about repentance and change.

Third, when curved-in-upon-themselves human beings interpret passages of judgment, we tend to see the sins of others rather than our own sins. So when we read Amos, we tend to think of “those people’s sins, back then.” Or, we tend to think of the sins of “other people” today. But as Jesus suggests in the Sermon on the Mount, when we interpret the law we should first examine the logs in our own eyes, rather than starting with the slivers in our neighbors eyes. Here, when preaching, preachers will do well to role model an interpretive approach that starts by looking in our own eyes. Preachers should resist the urge to apply this passage first either to the rich or to those in power–instead, starting with the text as saying something true about ourselves.

Portrait of a Life-of-Faith Run Amuck
One can consider Amos 6: 4-6 as a portrait of a life of faith that has gone horribly wrong at some point. But first, a little context.

The passage is introduced by a slap-in-the-face shout to “those who are at ease in Zion” and “those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.” Zion, of course, refers to Jerusalem, which during Amos’ ministry (about 760 B.C.E.) was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. Samaria, likewise, was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Thus, Amos is addressing all of God’s people here–both the southern kingdom from which he hailed, as well as the northern kingdom to which God had sent him as prophet. The prophet accuses the people in these cities of being at ease because they are sure that no harm will come to them, that they are safely out of danger’s reach. In the verses the lectionary excises (verse 1b-3), the prophet essentially says, “Take a look around, friends. What do you see in the neighboring countries? Do you see any that have escaped the devastation of the Assyrian army? So why do you think you will be any different?”

To this, the people of both the northern and southern kingdoms would have answered: “We are different because we are the Lord’s people.”

To that, Amos answers by painting his audience an audible portrait of a corporate life of faith that has gone to seed. The picture Amos paints is of a decadent feast. This feast may have been connected to some worship ritual because the Hebrew words for “bowls” in verse 6 (mizraq) and “anoint” (mashach) occur elsewhere in the Old Testament in ritual contexts. Or the feast may simply have been “the revelry…of privileged powerful people who enjoy the indulgences which they can afford.” Either way, the prophet paints a picture of people who claim to belong to the Lord and who trust the Lord to protect them and keep them “at ease” and “secure,” but who behave in  a decidedly ungodly manner.

Amos’ canvas begins to be filled in: The worshippers are those who lie down on “beds of ivory,” literally “beds of tooth”–these refer to beds made of wood, with inlaid, ivory ornamentation. Most Israelites slept on the floor, on thin, woven mats. The worshippers are those who eat the most expensive of foods–veal (calves from the stall) and young lambs. Most Israelites ate little meat, subsisting mostly on grains, vegetables, and fruits. Amos is thus taking aim at those in power in Jerusalem and Samaria. Those who can tax the poor of the land, but use the taxed proceeds not for the welfare of the people, but for their own luxury. They drink wine and anoint themselves with oil.

“But are not Grieved over the Ruin of Joseph!”
And in the background of Amos’ picture, one can see a suffering, oppressed populace: “They are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” “Joseph” here is a collective name that refers to the entire people of Israel. Amos’ portrait comes close to the clichéd image of Nero, who supposed fiddled while Rome burned. Or that of a Marie Antoinette, who is rumored to have said, “Let them eat cake,” while the populace rebelled in starvation.

Amos’ point is that the leaders of God’s people have been invested with power and authority in order to fulfill a mission–that mission is to tend the faith of God’s people, so that God’s people can fulfill the mission that God had given Israel. But instead of using their authority and power to tend to the welfare of God’s people, those in power have used their privilege to seek their own welfare.

“If You Like Amos, You Don’t Understand him.”
A former colleague of mine often would quote one of his teachers, who had said, “If you like the prophet Amos, you don’t understand him.” That is, if you think Amos is reinforcing your own political views, skewering your political opponents, taking your side–you probably have not understood the old codger. Conservatives in our culture could easily seize on Amos’ condemnation of the legislative, government class: “See, it is about the oppressive taxes fostered by a legislative class that nurtures our dependence on them, all the while making sure that their own bellies are full.” Liberals in our culture could easily seize on Amos’ condemnation of the wealthy, business class: “See, it is about the greedy economic policies of a predatory business class, who exploit workers for forty years and then default on their pensions, all the while lining their own pockets with gold.” There is surely truth to both interpretations. And yet, there is also a third interpretation–an interpretation that would be in line with the consistent prophetic condemnation of the clergy class.

Amos’ contemporary Hosea said, “For with you is my contention, O priest” (4:4c). Perhaps the working-preacher class (myself first among them!) should start by exploring how this passage indicts us. Have we really put the faith formation of the people of God first? Have we focused everything we do on forming the faith of God’s people, so they can serve God’s mission in the world. Have we exercised our offices, used our authority, and employed our power faithfully, always tending the faith of the people, so they can live out their callings as God’s chosen ones?

I don’t sleep on a bed with inlaid ivory ornamentation, but somehow, I am pretty sure that the bed I have made is the same one that Amos had in mind. And I have decided that I don’t like Amos.

1. This commentary was first published on this site on Sept. 26, 2010


Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Alphonetta Wines

It is said that hope springs eternal.

There are times, however, when hope is hard to find. Where is the hope when the dread of war is reality? Where is the hope when the lone voice of the one God commissioned to bring hope is locked away in prison? Where is the hope when leaders mistake painful words for words of hopelessness?

This is the situation in today’s text. Babylon has overtaken Jerusalem leaving a trail of death and destruction in its path. Jeremiah, the prophet whose job it is “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” is imprisoned, silenced within the walls of the king’s palace. The king, King Zedekiah, is too shortsighted to understand that Jeremiah’s word of warning is a blessing in and of itself.

Sometimes, especially in the worst of times, hope comes from unexpected places and is visible only to those who have the “eyes to see.” Many would see the offer to buy land in a time such as this simply as a way to rid oneself of an unwanted financial responsibility. After all, owning land “seem[ed] pointless to buy property when the entire population is about to be killed or deported.”1 Jeremiah, on the other hand, understood his cousin’s offer to be a sign of hope and expectation for future blessing. Since God had told him to expect his cousin to make the offer, Jeremiah saw it as a sign that God would reverse Israel’s fortunes. He saw it as a sign that God had neither forgotten Israel nor left it to its own devices.

Commanding that the deeds be put in clay pots, Jeremiah took steps necessary to assure that the deeds of purchase would outlast war and destruction. Even today, it is a joyous occasion and a newsworthy event when a cache of ancient documents is found. For example, Israel’s national library announced its purchase of thousand-year-old “writings in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judea-Arabic and … Judeo-Persian”2 found in caves in northeast Afghanistan was international news.

Years earlier when Israel settled in the Promised Land, priests and Levites were forbidden to own land. Instead, they were given “fields around the towns that had been allocated to them.”3 These properties were to remain in the hands of close relatives.4 “Crops [could be planted and] harvested”5 but never sold outside the family. This restriction was designed to “prevent a family losing its land and … [being] reduced to poverty.”6

Jeremiah made sure that he followed all of the prescribed legal procedures, including having it witnessed publicly. With the transaction in public view, Jeremiah was also conducting a “sermon” for all to see. It was a way of expressing his hope, his desire, his trust in God, that things would indeed get better, even if he did not live to experience better.

Where is the hope when the addict has lost her way, when the family has lost its connection, when the gambler has lost it all? Where is the hope when changes in the economy result in an unwanted layoff? Where is the hope when failing health signals that life will go on, but it will never be the same? What do you do when you know there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but for the life of you, you can’t see it? What do you do when it seems that what is broken can never be healed, can never be fixed?

Sooner or later, the one whose heart is broken must step out in faith if there is to be any healing, any movement forward into the new “future story.”7 The addict must seek treatment. The family can choose love, even in divorce. The gambler can choose to make different financial decisions. The employee with a pink slip can find a new career. Failing health can lead to a new way of life. The one looking for light at the end of the tunnel can choose to move forward, confident that the light is there, even in the darkness. The one whose heart is broken can trust that God will heal.

For Jeremiah, that act of faith meant buying a plot of land. It must have taken must faith. It must have taken much courage to purchase land that had been upended by war, especially since he expected a long road to peace. Seventy years is a long time and Jeremiah likely would not live to reclaim the land. His purchase was not just for himself, but for future generations. His purchase signaled the nation that the one who brought warning of destruction was also one who believed in restoration.

Scripture does not tell us what happened to Jeremiah or to the land, except to say that despite warning against it, Jeremiah was compelled by some in his community to go to Egypt. Many years later, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the exiles would return to reclaim and rebuild the nation and its temple.

Paul too knew the importance of living by faith. He would write in 2 Corinthians 5:7 “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” Paul and Jeremiah, their words speak volumes, even today. Jeremiah’s purchase of land still stands as a testimony of what faith and hope in God can do. Even in the worst of times faith and hope can be found if only we have “eyes to see.” Like Paul, like Jeremiah, it is incumbent for all to know that hope does indeed spring eternal.


1 Issiaka Coulibaly, Jeremiah” in Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars, ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 896.

2 Mario Ledwith “Collection of ancient Hebrew manuscripts discovered in Afghanistan provide evidence Jewish people lived in country 1,000 years ago” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2256870/Hebrew-documents-Taliban-stronghold-reveal-evidence-Jewish-communities-living-Afghanistan-1-000-years-ago.html (accessed March 15, 2016).

3 Coulibaly, 896.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Lester, Andrew D., Hope: Pastoral Care and Counseling (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).


Commentary on Psalm 146

Wil Gafney

Psalm 146 lacks any evidence of context enabling the reader to hear it in her own time and place.

In the psalm God is the author of liberation (v 7), the only one worthy of our trust (v 3) and praise (v 2). The psalmist knows these truths to be abiding and commits to a life of praise (v 1).

The psalm contrasts the praiseworthy God with untrustworthy mortals. There is no other gap so wide. The psalmist singles out nobles, “princes” in the NRSV (v 3). This is an apt word in celebrity-obsessed culture. Wealth and standing do not make someone trustworthy. Yet the psalmist is not engaging in class warfare as is so often charged these days when one engages in serious cultural critique. The anonymous psalmist clarifies in the same verse that no mortal, (literally “human child”), can offer any meaningful “help.” “Help” here is teshua; it is actually “salvation.” (This is an unfortunate translation choice since when “help” reoccurs in the NRSV in v 5 it is the word that actually means help.) The two lines of verse 3 are in a parallel formation in which “princes” and “mortals” and “trust” and “help/salvation” correspond: Neither princes/nobles nor ordinary mortals are worthy of trust. They cannot help; they cannot save. Verse 4 proclaims that their plans — dreams and schemes — die with them.

Deepening the contrast between the ageless undying God and time-bound mortals the psalm proclaims the blessedness (or “happiness”) of those for whom Israel’s God is their help. This help, ezer, is the specialty of God. Throughout the Hebrew Bible God, not mortals, is the primary source of this help — one of the very few exceptions is the help the first woman in the garden is to provide her partner. The psalmist calls the God who helps “the God of Jacob.” The title is introduced in Exodus 3 where it occurs in a longer formula with Abraham and Isaac in Exodus 3:6, 15 and then in Exodus 4:5. Subsequently, the expression “God of Jacob” stands alone as a divine title used more in the Psalms than anywhere else. (See 2 Samuel 23:1; Psalm 20:1; 24:6; 46:7, 11; 75:9; 76:6; 81:1, 4; 84:8; 94:7; 114:7; 146:5; Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2.)

In verses 6-9 the psalmist offers a curriculum vitae for God. This God is the God of liberation and social justice. The psalmist begins with the incomparable power of God as Creator juxtaposed with God’s faithfulness in v 6. The juxtaposition posits creation as an act of faithfulness. The rest of God’s mighty acts in the psalm are also acts of faithfulness:

  • First, God does justice for the oppressed (v 7). Biblical Hebrew has a deep lexicon of words that mean “to oppress,” at least twelve different words signaling a variety of kinds of oppression. This oppression, ashuqim, is primarily financial. It is characterized as defrauding one’s neighbor in Leviticus 6:2-4 and withholding wages in Deuteronomy 24:14. Financial fraud and wage theft are issues in our world as they were in the world of the psalmist.
  • Second, God is the one who gives food to the hungry (v 7).
  • Third, God sets the prisoners free (v 7).
  • Fourth, God opens the eyes of the blind (v 8).
  • Fifth, God lifts up those who are bowed down (v 8).
  • Sixth, God loves the righteous (v 8).
  • Seventh, God watches over the strangers (v 9). Strangers here are resident aliens, immigrants. Prosperous and stable nations around the world, particularly in the West, are struggling with immigration issues. In the face of these struggles the psalmist declares God is concerned for the immigrants.
  • Eighth, God upholds the orphan and the widow (v 9). Widowhood was a common fate in the ancient world and God and the scriptures express a particular concern for widows and their children. In patriarchal perspective fatherless children were orphans even though their mothers were very much alive. In the Hebrew Bible orphans are nearly always paired with their widowed mothers. Throughout the scriptures the ill-treatment of widows and their children is a mark of depravity, injustice and oppression. Yet God and the scriptures also use the threat of widowhood against men, their punishment for faithlessness includes their own deaths and the certain vulnerability of their widows and orphans as in Psalm 78:62-64. An anonymous psalmist prays in this theology in Psalm 109 asking God to make his enemy’s wife a widow and his children orphans, fatherless. Some conservative Christians have prayed this psalm against President Obama and marked merchandise with this sentiment.
  • Ninth, God brings the way of the wicked to ruin (v 9).

This is quite the résumé. As is so often said in the Black Church: Who wouldn’t serve a God like this? The psalmist’s God is intimately concerned with the wellbeing of her people, particularly those who are the most vulnerable. Indeed, the psalm generally ignores those who defraud and oppress. The psalm also makes clear that these matters are not merely legal or criminal issues; they are moral, ethical, religious and theological issues. And they are not beneath the notice of God.

One might be tempted to say these issues are claimed by God; they are her responsibility and not ours. Yet nothing in the psalm absolves humanity of or excuses us from addressing the issues of injustice in our world. Those for whom this text is scripture have seen in it a pattern for their own service, from the prophets to Jesus of Nazareth.

Second Reading

Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19

A.K.M. Adam

The lesson today skips over the extensive discussion of roles in the church and takes up (after a denunciation of those who teach false doctrine, revisiting a topic from the beginning of chapter 4) the question of discipleship and wealth.1


The reading selects a sort of ethical inclusio, wherein the letter initiates the question of wealth in verses 6–10, then cites the grounds by which one may distinguish true faithfulness from false, then returns to the question of riches with specific instructions. The passage reminds disciples that a heartfelt profession of faith in God is incompatible with the longing for material abundance.

The initial section of our reading sets out the spiritual dangers that affect people whose hearts are distracted by desires for earthly wealth. In this section, the letter echoes familiar Pauline warnings about desire and distraction. Any object of desire that overshadows a primary allegiance to God — be it sex, or status, or spiritual virtuosity — imperils the faithfulness that sustains our sharing in Jesus. Among these distractions, Paul (and Jesus, and James) identify the desire for possessions as particularly corrosive.

Although human well-being requires only a minimal economic basis (“if we have food and clothing we will be content with these,” 6:8), the transition from basic food and clothing to nice food and clothing, and from there to stylish clothing and rich food, takes place gradually. We are not likely to observe the progress from need to desire, especially when that transition involves ourselves and our loved ones. Yet praiseworthy as is the concern to see one’s family and friends well-nourished and healthy, therein lies many pitfalls.

For instance, the determination to see one’s family amply fed and equipped contributes to the anxious concern to be a good provider, exactly the sort of anxiety Jesus inveighed against in the Sermon on the Mount. It may slide from the desire to see one’s family well-fed and clothed to seeing them more well-fed and clothed than others (the sort of temptation Jesus warned against, saying that the gospel constituted all who accept and live by it into a new, expansive family). And of course, as this letter points out, the eagerness to be rich opens the door to putting that goal ahead of faithful commitment to God (as Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon”).

The insatiable appetite for wealth narrows a person’s field of vision; when one gazes fixedly at wealth, one cannot look around at neighbors who demonstrate that riches are not necessary for abundant life. Wealth’s blinkers conceal from us the people whose need for bare sustenance far surpasses our desire for newer, better, more intense satisfactions. These verses highlight the desperate suffering the lottery economy engenders; as fewer people accumulate more of the world’s resources, the occupants feel dissatisfied with what they have because it is less than the hyperbolic wealth of celebrity mega-millionaires. All the while, around the world people starve in order unwillingly to fund gamblers’, investors’, dealers’, reality-TV show stars’, bankers’, gangsters’, and ordinary middle-class civilians’ intoxicated dream of becoming the one lucky person whose wealth surpasses counting.

As a counterexample, the letter commends Timothy for having made “the good confession,” apparently a public avowal of faith in God before hostile witnesses. In this, Timothy followed the example of Jesus before Pilate, who did not deny God in order to secure his own safety (the letter identifies Jesus’ response to Pilate also as a “good confession”). That sort of unwavering fidelity demonstrates the sort of character that does not put mundane anxieties ahead of pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

As a theological complement to the single-minded devotion to God, the reading re-emphasizes God’s uniqueness and God’s transcendent characteristics, recalling those themes from both of the last two weeks’ readings. This week, the epistle calls God “the only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,” who “has immortality” and “whom no one has ever seen” (6:15f); two weeks ago, we read that God is “King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1:17), and last week that “there is one God” (2:5). This consistent theme provides the heartbeat of the epistle, such that subsidiary points about discipleship, ecclesiology, and relation to alternative cultures derive their cogency from their congruence with the one God’s transcendence.

Having restated the premise the unique God requires a unique commitment from those who want to take part in the divine life, the letter returns to the topic of wealth from a different angle. In this concluding section, the letter deals not with people who might be enthralled by the prospect of riches, but people who already have ample resources. (The impulse to say, “Surely it is not I, Lord” betrays the anxiety and double-mindedness that the first verses of today’s reading warned about.) As was implicit in the earlier discussion, the problem lies not in riches themselves but in people’s determination to accumulate wealth rather than to use it to alleviate others’ needs.

One might invoke Paul’s familiar metaphor of the body to underscore this point: the belly does not withhold nutrients from brain, does it? Can the heart prosper if it does not circulate the blood but hoard it (after all, you never know when you might need a transfusion)? Those who have more than they need for nourishment and protection from the elements are under no risk of condemnation so long as they dispose of their riches for the benefit of others.

As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Those put their hope in bank vaults and high-yield securities make their own kind of confession of faith, and it is not what the letter would describe as “the good confession.” Those who place their hope in the one God whose heritage we share by our participation in the Body of Christ will readily share what they have. Those who stake their well-being on temporal wealth will never have enough; but there is no shortage of blessings for God’s people.

1. This commentary was first published on this site on September 26. 2010.