Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” (Matthew 4:8-10 NRSV)
IN APRIL OF 2011, A SEVENTEEN-year-old Chinese high school student named Wang made news around the world after it was discovered that he had sold one of his kidneys to buy an iPhone and an iPad. His mother later reported that, in fact, Wang had received $3,500 for his kidney, and only after receiving the money did he decide to buy the technology devices. Nevertheless, Wang’s story became a kind of parable about confused values and the lure of money. Five people were arrested for luring Wang to sell his kidney, including the surgeon who harvested it.
We are shocked by such stories of misguided and potentially deadly acts in pursuit of more, and yet, aren’t many of us in a way guilty of similar acts? I think of the economic crisis of 2008 that unfolded first in the United States and then around the world, which continues to shape our economy years later. Americans mortgaged their futures to buy iPads and iPhones, big screen televisions, and mini-mansions. Even those not living beyond their means benefited from increases in the stock market and housing market that resulted from unbridled spending.
Jesus, too, was tempted by wealth. The fact that he knew its allure allowed him to teach powerfully on the subject. He taught his disciples that one’s life does notconsist of the abundance of possessions. He preached that we cannot serve both God and money. He taught and modeled for his disciples that “the one who would be great among you must become your servant.” In this temptation, Jesus came face to face with the lure of wealth and power and said, “No! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him’ ” (Matthew 4:10 NRSV).
In what ways do you struggle with materialism? How much energy do you devote to “storing up treasures on earth?” Jesus was right to associate this temptation with false worship. Without even realizing it, we can make the desire for wealth into an idol.
Jesus knew this temptation, and he sought to show us a better way. Wealth is not evil in and of itself. But, Paul rightly wrote, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 NRSV). Paul offered the antidote when he advised us to “do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up . . . the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19 NRSV).
Lord, you know what it is to be tempted by the desire for riches. Help me to say no to the false gods of wealth and power, and instead to worship and serve only you. Help me to be generous and ready to share. Amen.