“’Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’ And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’” (Luke 3:8-14)
It’s possible to be too familiar with someone or something and not know the nature of the person or thing at all. You thought you knew your teenager until she came home from school one day and declared that she wants to study geology or become a baker. It’s the same way with Scripture that we’ve heard and might even be able to summarize or recite without ever thinking deeply about it. I felt this way when I began studying for my Divine Wisdom Bible lessons, rereading parables from Luke in the context of financial stewardship. So I decided to take some time to walk through Luke, looking at Jesus’s parables more closely, with a broad view. This week we will consider some of the parables, analogies, and teachings that Luke recorded that utilize finances as a basis for spiritual instruction. I wonder if Jesus used parables about riches and management of resources because he knows that money is such a snare for us, or just because it is an integral aspect of our daily lives.
Today we will start with the words of John the Baptist who was preparing the way for the Messiah. In his first words at the Jordan River, John called the crowds vipers and trees bearing bad fruit that will be cut down by God. The root of their faith needed to be spiritually deep, in God, and strong enough to bear good fruit in a culture bent on materialism—and likewise for us. John was preparing the people to meet and believe in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. The people in the crowds, including tax collectors and soldiers asked him what to do to escape the ax of God. I am sure he surprised them by speaking of material sacrifices—tunics, taxes, and wages, as a way to express “fruit in keeping with repentance,” not as a way to win approval from God and escape his wrath.
John did not tell the people to give everything away, the tax collectors to quit their jobs, or the soldiers to go AWOL. Instead, he told the people to give away their excess (one of two cloaks), the tax-collectors to stop skimming off over-inflated taxes for themselves, and the soldiers to stop taking bribes for favors. John taught them and us to be content with necessary possessions, do our work with integrity, and be satisfied with our wages. When our contentment and security are in Jesus Christ and his work on our behalf, we handle material goods and income generously, reasonably, and with integrity, reflecting the peace we have with God.
Do you handle money wisely and in keeping with your faith? Will you take another look at your financial priorities, habits, and practices to see where there are inconsistencies?