A street thug approaches a couple in an alleyway and demands “your money or your life!” The man pushes the woman forward, and the thug says “what are you doing?” The man replies, “Oh, I thought you said ‘your money or your wife’!”
The iconic threat of the street thug is a subject for standup comedy, but his intentions are all too serious: give him your cash, and you might live; refuse and he kills you, taking your coin, anyway.
Jesus issues a sanctified demand quite similar to that of the thug, though with much different implications: in Mark’s gospel Jesus frequently demonstrates that those who would attempt to follow him cannot cling to their money at the same time. The rich young man turned away when it became apparent that Jesus’ lordship extended to his monetary wealth (Mark 10:17-22). The poor widow was praised when her offering of two lepta constituted more than the extravagant offerings of the rich, because it was “all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41-44).
In effect, the rich young man kept his wealth and lost his life. The widow gave her wealth and gained much more than the physical sustenance it may have provided.
God measures our giving — the extent to which we aren’t clinging to money — differently than the world does. Actual dollar amounts are not what counts: we would expect the wealthy to give larger sums, and the poor to give lesser sums. God measures our giving by 1) what we have kept for ourselves, 2) what the giving costs us, 3) what sacrifice we made to give it.
If we determine how much to give to kingdom work through the church based upon what we will be able to keep for ourselves, we are clinging to money. If we can give and discern no effect on our standard of living, we are clinging to money. If the gift doesn’t required us to alter spending on other things or to modify other behavior, we are clinging to money.
Jesus demands “your money or your life.” Yet his is not a threat to kill us if we don’t give him our money, but a stern reminder that unless we turn loose of wealth’s void promise, we remain dead in sin.