In explaining why he hired the president of Goldman Sachs for the US Secretary of Commerce, not only did Donald Trump say it was because he did not want a poor person (who would understand the problems of the economy) in office, but also it is because he prefers the rich. That is, Trump suggested that the rich are the kind of people we should elevate and look up to in our society. In other words, Donald Trump gives a differential option for the rich and justifies it by glorifying wealth itself.
Make no mistake, this is clear worship of mammon. This is more than a pragmatic act; his words indicate he is concerned about the glorification of money and those who have it.
How can any Christian who reads Scripture, even if they ignore the rest of the Christian tradition, stand up and back Trump’s words? If they follow Christ, they cannot do so. For they know what Jesus himself had said:
But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets (Lk. 6:24-26 RSV).
Jesus could not be any clearer: the rich, those who hold on and attach themselves to money and justify themselves and declare themselves to be good and honorable because of what they have accumulated, have set themselves up for a fall. They have received their reward, but it shall not last. Fortunes come and fortunes go. But those who will be blessed, those who will receive true treasure in life, find it not in wealth, not in the material treasures of this world which rust and moth shall destroy; they will find it in the poverty of spirit, in detachment from all such things, so that they can be open to the kingdom of heaven and its eternal bounty. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20b RSV). The poor, the weak, the outcast, the widow, and the orphan find God’s compassionate embrace, for God became not just man, but a poor man, an outcast himself, bringing the fullness of his love to those who otherwise received none. Those who are unwilling to embrace and give preference to the poor have abandoned God who himself took poverty as his own, and so are said to have deny Jesus himself (cf. Matt. 25:40 – 46).
James, likewise, continued with this basic core of Jesus’ teaching, as he saw it was being neglected, and so made it a central message of his epistle:
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits (James 1:9-11 RSV).
The poor are not to be mistreated. The rich are not to be lifted up as if they are superior to others:
James was clear, evil thoughts direct those who give preference to the rich. It is evil which makes us think of them as our betters, as if their wealth indicates a better moral character, worthy of positions of leadership and authority. If someone would divest themselves of all their wealth, and receive but the lowest of wages, perhaps they might become worthy despite their previous wealth, but to give them acclaim and represent them as being worthy guides for our economy just because they are rich and know how to make themselves richer is to give the hen house to the wolves—who can be so foolish? And yet, it is worse when so-called Christians promote this, because in doing so, they overturn what Scripture declares as they show in their actions absolute denial to what Jesus said and proclaimed.
My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while you say to the poor man, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:1-4 RSV).
The Apocalypse gives warning: we are not to boast in riches and think we need nothing, for in reality, they hide our real poverty of spirit and character:
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: `The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “`I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:14-17 RSV).
Truly, we must heed what was said to the church in Laodicea: holding on to riches will get us cast out, for by holding on to filthy lucre, we will not have the savor of spiritual richness. God remains throughout Scripture looking after those who are undermined by society, those who are mistreated by the social sin, and demands they are given respect and love by those who want his love. And so, who among the Christian faith can say they agree with Trump and do so without undermining their own Scriptures? Who can say with Trump that the glory of riches deserves preference, when all it does is elevate mammon and its deathly curse to all who worship it instead of the God who is love? Woe to the rich. Woe, too, to those who prefer the rich, for all of this shall end up as naught.
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