Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
(Matt 5.19-21, 24)
There is a machine that exists today that threatens all of humanity. It is a machine that we created, but now it spins wildly out of control and for the most part, we remain unaware or apathetic. At one time, we thought this machine would provide freedom, a better way of life, a better economy. These have been some of its greatest deceptions. But the machine of capitalism is a torture device for those who are unable or unwilling to play the game. For those who grow up in middle- to upper-class homes in America, with adequate housing, food, and access to medical care, capitalism is the air they breathe. And there are others on the wrong side of capitalism—the poor, the oppressed, those who cannot take care of themselves and so they are crushed underfoot. Those in the first group expect people to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and if they can’t, well—natural selection takes over. We live in a culture that for the most part abides by the “every one for themselves” “look out for number one” mentality.
In this system, the accumulation of wealth is the greatest good; the rich get richer, and the poor, of course, get poorer. Men and women claw their way to the top, stepping on whatever and whomever necessary for their ascension. The machine has taken on a life of its own, like a ball of energy that has multiplied exponentially and spins dangerously out of control. It is this system—this machine—that we must rage against. The system manifests itself in the greed of big business, the oppression of the poor, credit card debt that drowns its victims, and the insatiable appetite for material goods—newer, bigger, better, faster.
Overtly and covertly, explicitly and implicitly, consciously and subconsciously, we have been trained in the ways of capitalism. We have learned how to push others out of the way to get what we want. We have grown accustomed to good health, material possessions, and indulgences. We don’t want to give up our comforts, pleasures, and the things we’ve worked so hard to earn (largely oblivious to what sort of work or sacrifices were required of others).
And yet, this is not the life Jesus modeled. Jesus sacrificed everything and got nothing in return. Jesus’s ministry focused specifically on the poor, the sick, the outcast, and the marginalized. Jesus went out of his way to spend time with those people whom we try hard to avoid. Jesus’s instruction to us to refrain from storing up treasures on earth is not just for our own wellbeing, so that we do not become too dependent on and concerned about our material possessions. This teaching also serves to benefit the poor, because when we are not storing up treasures, we are sharing them with others.
And the difficult word today that makes us all squirm in our seats is this: if we are not on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the widows, the orphans … we are not on the side of Jesus—because that’s where he is. His earthly ministry sought those people we turn up our noses at. It’s not that we try to be snobby about it—it’s just that … those people who smell, whose clothes are unclean, who appear disheveled … we don’t really want to sit next to those people … we kind of … wish they wouldn’t come. Shhh … don’t say it … we try not to even think it. But deep down, if we are honest with ourselves, we do wish they weren’t here. They make us uncomfortable. We don’t quite know how to act around them or interact with them. That’s why we’re not all trying to bring the poor into our churches. Perhaps being around them is holding up a mirror to our greed, selfishness, conceit.
Paul tells us that though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave. As a human being—one of us—he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death. Jesus had all the reasons in the world to look down on us, to not concern himself with our ailments. Being holy and pure, he had every right to not want to touch the sick and leprous, to reach out to the dirtiest people in society. But he did anyway. We sing about being humbled and being made a servant … but most of us have specific parameters around what kind of “servanthood” we’re comfortable with and how far we are willing to go. Jesus showed us exactly how to become servants. But can we follow him and remain committed to this machine? It might be time to rage against the machine.