Lent, Day 4: Money, It’s a Gas

Psalm 49

Common English Bible (CEB)

Psalm 49

   For the music leader. A psalm of the Korahites.
 1 Listen to this, all you people!
   Listen closely,
   all you citizens of the world—
 2 people of every kind,
   rich and poor alike!
3 My mouth speaks wisdom;
   my heart’s meditation is full of insight.
4 I will pay close attention to a proverb;
   I will explain my riddle on the lyre.
 5 Why should I be afraid in times of trouble,
   when the wrongdoing of my bullies engulfs me—
    6 those people who trust
      in their fortunes
      and boast of their fantastic wealth?
7 Wealth? It can’t save a single person!
   It can’t pay a life’s ransom-price to God.
8 The price to save someone’s life
is too high—
   wealth will never be enough—
    9 no one can live forever
      without experiencing the pit.
 10 Everyone knows that the wise die too,
   just like foolish and stupid people do,
      all of them leaving their fortunes
      to others.
11 Their graves[a] are their eternal homes,
   the place they live for all generations,
      even if they had counties
      named after them!
12 People won’t live any longer
because of wealth;
   they’re just like the animals
   that pass away.
 13 That’s how it goes
for those who are foolish,
   as well as for those who follow their lead, pleased with their talk.

14 Like sheep, they’re headed
straight for the grave.[b]
   Death will be their shepherd—
   but those who do right in their hearts
   will rule over them come morning!—
   their forms wasting away in the grave
   rather than having
   some dignified residence.[c]
15 But God will save my life
from the power of the grave,
   because he will take me.

 16 Don’t be overly impressed
when someone becomes rich,
   their house swelling
   to fantastic proportions,
 17 because when they die,
   they won’t take any of it with them.
   Their fantastic things
   won’t accompany them down under.
18 Though they consider themselves blessed during their lives,
   and even thank you
   when you deal well with them,[d]
 19 they too will join the ancestors
   who’ve gone ahead;
   they too will never see the light again.
20 Wealthy people?
They just don’t understand;
   they’re just like the animals
   that pass away.

You know, it’s kind of refreshing and at the same time really depressing how even in the time the psalmist wrote this, money and wealth was a major problem. It’s a recurring theme in scripture, and, well, in pretty much all of history as well. Some people are rich. And those people have a tendency to become prideful, arrogant, and jerky in general. The even harsher truth in that is that all of us have the same tendency, as Pink Floyd points out,but money somehow makes it more socially acceptable.
This baby-seal-leather bald-eagle-down recliner is most exquisite, if I do say so my self.
I’m not saying that all rich people are bad, or prideful, or arrogant, or jerky. In fact, I’ve met a very good many generous, kind, humble people who have done well in life, and they really do have a heart for mission and equality. However, the good effects they have on society tend to get outweighed by the negative effects of greed, pride, and inequality. I guess the difference between the two is really a matter of perspective, and the psalmist hits the nail on the head here: wealth will never be enough, and nobody lives forever.
Sorry uncle Scrooge, you can’t take it with you. Good thing you will live forever in our hearts. And you’re a fictional character. That helps too.

Mortality just throws a big monkey wrench in the plan if your goal is to simply get the most money in life. Yes, money can make things better sometimes, especially if you know how to use it well and not waste it. However, being able to appreciate money is something that takes time and experience, especially the experience of not having much of anything and seeing your bank account slowly circle the drain, and then fall into the drain, and then circle the drain again once you get your paycheck and you have to pay all the overdraft fees from the previous month, all while racking up credit card debt up the wazoo just to buy the cheapest food available and keep your car running so you can go to your job and earn your measly paycheck so you can start the cycle over and over and over again.

That’s why, in situations like this, I like to think of Spiderman.


Spiderman, in case you didn’t know, is a very different superhero for many reasons, but the biggest one was part of the very idea of the guy: Peter Parker is a poor young adult. He starts out in high-school needing money to help his aunt May pay the bills. He goes off to college and lives in a really cramped studio apartment, and is always behind on his payments. He finally graduates, and becomes… a teacher. The biggest constant tension of a Spiderman story is that while he is a superhero and a darn good one at that, he has a lot of problems in his personal life, most visible and constant of which is the need to simply get by. He’s not an actor, like his wife Mary Jane (I don’t care about what Joe Quesada thinks, Spiderman married Mary Jane and that’s the end of that), he’s not a trust-fund kid like his best friend Harry Osborn, and he’s definitely no billionaire playboy Tony Stark. He’s an average schlub, who wants to use his gifts responsibly, and that always seems to put him in an ethical quandary. 

Spiderman is still a virtuous guy, all around though. He wants to do the right thing, and that’s the kind of thing that the psalmist would exhort us to do, and it’s definitely the kind of thing Jesus would want us to do. Don’t make your life about gaining wealth, but make it about caring for people, loving people. That is what makes life worth living.

About grantimusmax

Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. Currently, he is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, California. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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