Making America Rich

Making America Rich July 23, 2016

Rich and Poor, or War and Peace, 17th c. Unidentified Flemish Painter. Museum of Bread Culture, Ulm, Germany vanderTell my brother to gimme my share of the money, said the man in the crowd to Jesus.

And why not? After all, Jesus told a lot of stories about guys, gals too, who didn’t get a fair shake in life, and he was always on their side.

There was the guy who wasted all his inheritance on wine, women, and song, he got to come home again. So why wouldn’t Jesus side with a guy who hadn’t even had the chance to go to Vegas yet?

All week, at the RNC, rich has been a riff running through everything. I’m rich, Trump keeps proclaiming, and he knows America loves him for it. He loves himself for it. His Dad and Mom, all three wives, his kids, they love him for it.  And I’m religious, he asserted when he presented his VP choice, and his evidence for that?  The evangelicals are voting for me.

Evangelicals do love rich guys. Fat cats. Mega-churches. Success is part of their creed. If you love Jesus . . . and Jesus loves you . . . well, how can you fail? It’s a comfortable creed. Think of Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker in their heyday. Joel Osteen is a present day incarnation of the gospel of success.

It isn’t just evangelicals who fall to their knees in adoration of money. A lot of mainlines, like Trump himself, take money as a sign of God’s blessing, even if they are not praising God for getting it for them, even if, like Trump, they praise themselves for getting it for them. A lot of Catholics, too, admire money, and who imagines those cathedrals were built by small pledges from ordinary pew-sitters? Just look at those old altar paintings, with the wealthy donors painted in, at the manger, or near the Magi.

A lot of Protestants and Catholics, like the fellow in the crowd complaining to Jesus, feel cheated in this life, want a larger share, and by God, who hasn’t given them a winning lottery ticket yet, if Trump will get it for them, they’ll vote for Trump.

In fact, the Pew Report recent poll shows, across the board, church-going Americans are supporting Trump. Evangelicals by a huge majority, but across the board, Trump gets the Christian vote.

But to the fellow who wanted what he considered to be his by right, his share of the family fortune that his brother wouldn’t give him, Jesus gave a tongue-lashing instead of an encouraging word. “Be on your guard, he said,  against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” And then he told them all a story, about a rich man, so wealthy he was rolling in it all, who went about building extra buildings to hold all his abundance. And the day they were finished he died. And what good was all that stuff to him now?

I’ll make America rich, promised Donald Trump in his acceptance speech at the RNC. He promised a lot more than this, his argument for his capability being, he’s made all the right decisions about being rich. And therefore he is capable of anything. Just give him the country. He’s the only one who can fix things, he says, and all the rest of us, the ordinary-income folks whose used to be called the backbone of the nation, well, we’re part of the problem. But he’s the solution.

I wonder — as a boy, did he learn this valuing of money, this equating the rich with the wise and the just, in church? Did he learn the story of King David as the story of a poor boy who made good – and got rich? Did he learn the story of King Solomon as the story of a man who built extravagant buildings, and the Temple, and got to marry a thousand women?

Did he ever learn the story of the rich man Dives and the poor man Lazarus who lay in the road in front of his house and the rich man ignored him and then ended up in hell?

Did Trump ever learn that what he does for the poorest and lowliest, is what he does for Christ?

Well, we haven’t gotten to see Trump’s tax returns, so we don’t know if he is generous or not. But what he knows about America is, when he dies, everyone will remember him – because he is rich.

Which is not the take-away lesson from the gospel this Sunday. And not what will make America rich, according to Jesus.
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Image: Rich and Poor or War and Peace. 17th century. Unidentified Flemish Painter. Museum of Bread Culture. Ulm, Germany. Vanderbilt Divinity School Library, Art in the Christian Tradition.

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