I saw somewhere the other day, for the first time, the acronymn FWO’s – for “Formerly Well Off” persons.

The economic state of the USA is changing and people know it, and already there are increasing numbers of FWO’s. And maybe we – “we” as a nation that is, as a culture – deserve it, or at least asked for it.

The Bible has warned us for millenia of the deadliness of greed and the transitoriness of wealth. But we have made it the one inescapable determiner of what a person, a corporation, or national policy should do. It seems we are moving into a time when those who have worshiped increase of wealth above all other values are going to find their chosen god a major disappointment. And a whole lot of the rest of us are likely to get hurt in the process.

But we have set our cultural value system that way. And there is little outcry against the worship of this false god, even from those claiming to represent the Biblical tradition.

How often do our lives revolve around status-oriented accumulation and conspicuous consumption?

These quotes are from Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus (2006, p132ff). In discussing “Kingdom Ethics” he pins some of this down pretty well I think.

We are daily massaged by a hyperactive consumerist vision to see and measure everything in life in terms of money — so that, as everyone knows, even time is money.

If we are to experience spiritual transformation … then we must be liberated from enslavement to money.

McLaren suggests that Jesus’ hearers were often obsessed with the occupation of their land by the Romans, but that Jesus seemed to think the worship of “Mammon” (money, greed) was a far more immediate and deadly problem.

This issue arises when McLaren spends several chapters treating what he calls “the Kingdom Manifesto” (the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).

Jesus uses this very language of power and domination in this section of the manifesto. You can’t serve two masters, he says. You can’t be a citizen of the kingdom of God while you also bow the knee to an economic Ceasar.

We have to choose, and we do choose. And our choices make all the difference. The worship of money (greed) will seriously warp us.

Money, it turns out, is a cruel task-master; when you serve money, soon you will resent God for interfering with your humming, expanding economic kingdom.

Ooh. That’s USA for some years now. Management by greed, government by greed, even education-management by greed and worship-organization for greed. And God is treated with contempt by being largely ignored, or even by being presented as a supporter of that money hyper-evaluation. It seems likely there will be a payback one of these days, one way or another.

Similarly, if you serve God, you will soon resent wealth for its constant guerilla warfare, its subtle invasion of every sector of life, its relentless conquest of life’s nonmaterial values.

Bingo!

You have to choose.

Then he points out that the prominent Biblical ethic of care for the poor stikes directly against this idolatry of mammon. That makes sense – that if it’s such a big issue, a deadly idolatry, the Prophets and the Christ would guide us into behavior that is the best treatment for the disease.

Perhaps it now becomes clear why giving to the poor begins Jesus’ list of spiritual practices: if we are to experience spiritual transformation so that we can become the kinds of people whose “righteousness” transcends the mere avoidance of doing wrong, mere technical perfection and external conformity — then we must be liberated from enslavement to money.