We Christians sometimes seem to think that Jesus spent most of his time fussing about sex and marriage, but he didn’t. What he really wanted to teach us about, according to the New Testament, is our money and possessions! In Matthew 6, we have some of Jesus’ most well-known words about money and “things”:
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
“No one can serve God and wealth.”
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink … Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
The Gentiles strive for clothes and fancy food and drink; instead, you must strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Talk about a counter-cultural message! How Jesus must pity us modern Americans, caught up in our cycle of getting more and more stuff, feeling like we’ll never have enough, and then fretting about it. The consumer-driven world in which we live is ruled by the fear of not having enough. The world that God created and intends for us to live in, however, is ruled by freedom, and a guarantee of abundance.(1)
A few years ago, my parishioners and I set up a table outside a PetSmart store to offer pet blessings in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi. Some busy people in fancy workout gear drove up in their cars. Others came out of the store pushing shopping carts overflowing with pet supplies. I watched their faces, as those with pets approached our group. I watched eyes narrow with doubt as strangers sized up the unusual situation. When we called out to them, “Want a free pet blessing?” some people looked down at their feet and fled rapidly. Some came forward, yet quite tentatively. I could see them wondering what the “catch” was. Were we going to try to sell them something? Rip them off in some way?
If Jesus were there offering eternal life, I imagine that even he would have gotten similar reactions of suspicion from us rich Americans out for a long afternoon of Sabbath shopping. We might have been too busy buying things to stop and listen to him. We might have been too jaded by the constant bombardment of advertising in our lives even to check out what Jesus was offering.
In contrast, after the PetSmart blessings, my parishioners and I took our pet blessings over to a parking lot near a homeless camp. There, each week, several organizations serve the homeless men, women, and children living there. When we arrived with our basket full of donated pet supplies, homeless adults ran up to us and began to plead and grab for the bags of pet food. The people’s desperation was shocking …. But so was their gratitude. I saw absolutely no suspicion in their eyes. No hesitancy. When we asked if their pets wanted a blessing, every single one of them agreed eagerly. Afterwards, they stuck around. They chatted with us about their pets. They told us about their lives. And they didn’t just thank us.
“Bless you. God bless you,” they said, over and over again.
We had come to bless the poor and their pets, but the "poor” were somehow blessing us. I imagine that if Jesus had come to that parking lot with a basket of eternal life, these folks would have had no trouble grabbing desperately for it. They wouldn’t have worried about looking dignified and self-sufficient. They’re used to living on the edge. They know how to recognize their need. They have nowhere else to rush off to. They know all too well that they are alive by the grace of God. They know the value of a blessing.
We all want to live fully, truly, deeply, abundantly, as God intends. We long for a meaningful life, a life filled with God, with love, with joy. We’re tired of superficial pleasures. We’re tired of the rat race. We know that all of our things and all of our choices don’t bring us the lasting joy that we seek. There is nothing for us to earn, or buy, or accumulate that will secure for us the Life for which we long.
Have you ever stood motionless in the cereal aisle at Kroger, frozen in place by the sheer number of cereal choices confronting you? Or in the clothing department of your favorite store? Or in your very own closet? Our things do not bring us contentment. What would it be like to enjoy our flourishing in freedom, like the lilies of the field? What if we could trust God like the tiny sparrow? What if the busy shopper at PetSmart could throw away her shopping list and head home to spend the afternoon playing fetch with her dog, instead? What if PetSmart could close on Sundays and give their workers more paid time at home with their families? What if the community could meet the daily needs of the homeless woman, so that she too could head down the street after Jesus, offering homeless kittens and blessings to lonely passers-by?
This month’s photo challenge: With pre-Christmas commercialism all around us, take some time to talk with your children about contentment. Ask them what would make them the happiest, the most content, this Christmas? (You might be surprised with their answer. In my experience, most children express a longing for spending more time with their parents!) Invite the child to help you take a photo of Christmas contentment that doesn’t depend on purchasing anything. Post your image to Instagram with the hashtag #imaginingwholeness. Have your children think of a second hashtag, if they'd like. (If you don’t use Instagram, just email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) I will collect the images submitted each month and publish them together on this website. If enough people respond, we will have a composite image that will, I hope, help us all to see our world in a new way, and, perhaps, find new ways of relating with the creation and the Creator!
(1) Walter Brueggemann, Money and Possessions, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 194.