The Gospel for this Wednesday (Lk 6: 20-26) and its continuation on Thursday (Lk 6: 27-38) in which Luke speaks of “Blessed are you poor,” and “Woe to you who are rich,” and to “Love your enemies and do good to them . . .” gives us particular pause in light of a chapter from an excellent book I’ve been reading entitled: Bad Religion – How we became a nation of Heretics by the New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat.
There is much in the book that is a clear and insightful analysis of present day America and our skewed understanding of the Christian Gospel. I’ve found Chapter six of the book entitled Pray and Grow Rich especially challenging.
In the woes and blessings of St Luke we see Luke’s version of Matthew’s eight Beatitudes (Mt. 5) by Jesus. Luke sounds more of a warning call than Matthew but touches us along the same cord.
Douthat’s chapter entitled Pray and Grow Rich is essentially a reflection of what he names the “Prosperity Gospel.”Douthat does an excellent historical review of how this perception of God has become part of our modern American culture. That perception essentially says that “God wants nothing more than to shower riches on believers.” Riches is reference to financial prosperity, big houses, large cars, real estate parcels, and a general life of ease and comfort. That God showers rewards on us in this life rather than waiting for the next. This is the “name it and claim it” perspective of Christian faith. As Douthat comments they jump “over the cross to the resurrection.”
He reviews various very popular television evangelists, all of whom have an enormous following with their preaching of optimism and wealth. You know, the guys with the slicked back hair, the shining white teeth, the beautiful wife and several homes everywhere. “This is what God will do for you as he has done for me,” they preach. They have millions of follwers world wide, have sold many books and become very wealthy on this promise of the good life from God.
It’s a powerful reflection not just on present day American religious faith – the Gospel of Prosperity. Who doesn’t want to hear such promises and good news in times of tough financial straights? Maybe God is just waiting for us to ask and do we have faith enough to believe it?
Just a thought. There is nothing wrong with asking in prayer for better times in our life. Seeking worthy employment is a good thing. How many prayers have gone up to St. Joseph asking that your house be sold or for a better job?
But, in the larger perspective, if you won the lottery (of course you first need to buy a ticket) what would you say? – “Thank you Jesus?” Does God really care about our checkbook, investments, IRA’s, and savings accounts? Is that the measure of our worth before him? Is Jesus your Savior or your financial advisor?
Take some time and pray about this. I know I have.