The Standard July 29, 2021
As people of faith, sometimes we struggle with how to honor God in our financial dealings or business practices. Businesses succeed by making healthy profits. It is understandable that we like to maximize our income. Are there extremes of the “buy low, sell high” mentality that hinder us from treating others the way Jesus would want us to? When we hire workers or tip servers, do we pay them what we would want to be paid? Are we willing to sacrifice a significant amount of money and time to improve someone else’s life?
In Isaiah 58 God speaks through the prophet regarding the Jewish people who appear eager for God to come near yet go through the motions of fasting and humbling themselves without their hearts in the right place. The Message translation begins the chapter with God saying, “Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins! They’re busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—law-abiding, God-honoring.” “The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit. You drive your employees much too hard.” “Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black?”
These Israelites make the same kinds of the mistakes Jesus saw the Pharisees make, the same kinds of mistakes you and I make when we put our interests before those of others. God tells Isaiah to relay the right way to act.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:6-11)
Jesus reiterates these ideas in a parable about the Son of Man coming in his glory with all the angels being like a king on his throne with all nations gathered before him. The King will separate the people as a shepherd separates sheep from the goats, with sheep on his right. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothes me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40)
Jesus says it is very hard, but not impossible, for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. By the world’s standards, many of us are rich. We can do immense good with what we have, as long as we are more interested in God’s pleasure than our own.