Daily Proverbial, 15 December 2011

A stingy man is eager to get rich and is unaware that poverty awaits him. Proverbs 28, verse 22.

It’s Christmas time again and we all remember the story of “A Christmas Carol.” Who among us couldn’t tell the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, the Victorian miser who traded love and happiness for the pursuit of wealth? He worshipped the acquisition of wealth and compounding interest. Wise in the ways of business, Scrooge was written to be a man who was so miserly and stingy that he would only light enough fuel in his fireplace to barely provide light and warmth to his hovel. Where the light of the human spirit and the love behind it was concerned, Scrooge refused to light it at all. When I think of a stingy man, I usually think of Scrooge.

Yet you don’t get rich by being a spendthrift. You need to be a good businessman and have the good sense to save. I can understand the profit motive. It’s a theme about which several online friends and I argue now and then. There is nothing wrong with being a capitalist, or acquiring wealth in an upright manner. Indeed, the charging of interest was an allowed (even encouraged) thing in Biblical times. Knowing that, you could reasonably make the argument that Scrooge wasn’t a miser but, instead, was simply a very frugal man and businessman.

Good businessman or not, what happened to Scrooge when he got old and got wealthy? He became poor. True, rich in monetary wealth, by every other measure that matters, Scrooge was a poor man. His life had been spent in the pursuit of getting rich. It was the one thing for which he had been singularly eager, trading the love and happiness of youth for the loneliness of old age. Without love in his heart, he was a poor man on the fast track to damnation until those three ghosts intervened and his heart was changed.

A stingy man is eager to get rich and is unaware that poverty awaits him. That’s Scrooge to a T. It’s also you and I. What? I’m an old Scrooge? Yes I am. You are too. Ok, Dave, let’s hear it.

You’re a Scrooge because you’re stingy with your love. You hold back from loving God and your neighbor with all your heart. According to Emmanuel Himself, that’s the first and most important command of God. You’re failed at it. You’re a miser because you hold out for something better, you build walls around your heart, you only love half-heartedly. When you choose, you love to open your heart and love as God commands. That, too, is a choice with which you’re stingy. You’re eager to have love, friendship, companionship, happiness make you so rich on your own terms that you don’t realize the marvels slipping by. You’re a miser with your love. You’re Scrooge. The verse is talking about you.

Everything of which I accuse you I’m guilty myself. I’m standing right beside you as you are accusing me of those same things and more. I’m an old poop myself sometimes, and I’m a Scrooge too. The man I see in the mirror has a hooked nose, red eyes, and thin blue lips just like old Ebenezer. I’ve traded real love for the illusion of trying to be rich in other ways only to find I felt poor, despicable, and un-loveable. Jacob Marley might as well show up at my door, lugging his chains, wearing his grave clothes, warning of the danger ahead.

Every so often we read stories about common, ordinary people who amassed great wealth in unassuming ways. They scrimp and save, invest wisely, forego extravagance, and live plainly. Over a lifetime of doing this, they become wealthy, maybe even millionaires. The amazing thing to me is that so many of them are happy. They often leave their wealth to others who need it, or create an ease of life that I can only imagine. I think they understand something of what wealth really is and what matters versus what doesn’t.

How much richer would life be, then, if we invest wisely in love? The thing about love is that, for it to grow, we don’t scrimp and save it, or forego it, or contrive to live in any way for it. We embrace love and share it, investing it into our hearts and into the hearts of others. Applying the posture of growing God’s love, we ‘put ourselves out there’ and do our best to love honestly yet unconditionally. Then and only then can we understand what it really is to be wealthy. Love is the only wealth you can take along when we exit this world in God’s good time.

What is poverty? Is it just the absence of monetary wealth or worldly worth? Or is it really the absence of love? Just like the stories of people who amass wealth and leave it to others, I often hear about the poor, who live out lonely lives estranged from family, or separated from loved ones, of afraid to love again because they might get hurt. I read this verse to say that those kinds of people are the truly poor because the riches they had stored up were without any basis in what really matters most.

I don’t want to be an old Scrooge anymore. For too long I was miserly with my heart; for too long I waited for Marley’s knock on the door to tell me what a terrifying stench I had become to the God of real love. Those days are done. There’s more to live for now. With Christmas coming, there’s the birth of real love to remember and the gift of that to share with others. For me, today’s verse is an opposite reminder of that, reminding me of what can happen when we turn our hearts away from what they were meant to grow, feel and share. When Scrooge learned that lesson, he finally became a rich man indeed.

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