Learning the Ropes
A two-part series from the Gospel of Matthew...
The Red Thread: Two Men (One Dead) Talk About Money, Part 2
by Brenda Evans
Jesus is either Creator,
Redeemer, and Lord; He is either center and foundation and
hope of my salvation,
as Leroy Forlines says,
or He is someone
I can ignore.
The gospel writer Matthew understood the statement above, and his account of Jesus is stained with Jesus’ redemptive blood and the implications of that redemption for Christians, even when the subject is money. Matthew himself often saw the greenness of money as a potential for evil, and so he issued warnings—not surprising for a former tax collector whom money once possessed.
But Jesus had a different perspective. To Him, money and man’s infatuation with it provided a platform for teaching what the red thread of redemption means as we live as redeemed ones. Of His 39 parables, 11 dealt with money. In most, money was His text, His starting point. He referenced planning, saving, investing, wages, debt, wealth, tithing, leasing, banking, interest, lenders, debt cancellation, cost analysis, and mismanagement. But while the parables started with money, they invariably ended somewhere else.
These starting points grab our attention like a blank check in a recession. Yet, His subtext, what He really wanted to talk about, was something bigger—a panorama of sorts, a sweeping view of values, ethics, habits, and behaviors. This “red thread of redemption” revolutionizes all of a man’s life, including his checkbook, but more. Or it should. That’s what Jesus said.
I think of two examples. Jesus told a tale of money in Matthew 18. A king forgave his servant a large debt; the servant then demonstrated no mercy to one who owed him, so the king delivered the unforgiving servant to a torturer. The story came in response to Peter’s question to Jesus about the mathematics of forgiveness. Jesus told Peter and the Twelve to forgive 70 times seven (as many times as it takes), and followed His mandate with the powerful parable.
Forgiveness is not a mathematical calculation. It is not a head initiative, but a heart initiative, a step of reconciliation, mercy, compassion, and generosity. Jesus wanted His followers to forgive without limit, and if we don’t, we should remember the fate of the torturer. We should allow the Holy Spirit to goad us, the redeemed, toward “sweet reasonableness” and forgiveness, as William Hendriksen says.
In Matthew 20, Jesus used money to make a different point. Vineyard workers became angry over their pay scale and complained that the owner had been unfair because he paid the same amount whether a man started early or late. The workers then demanded the owner renegotiate their contract. The owner rebuked them. The Savior’s point is clear: a work-for-wages spirit is a materialist view, not a spiritual one—an unredeemed attitude to avoid.
But His larger point is found in the one-liner at the end. “The last shall be first, and the first last” (20:16). Plainly put, God is sovereign. Our Redeemer-God calls the shots. He is maker and owner of the vineyard, a just and generous rewarder and compensator. This is heavy theology, and we must acknowledge it. Yield…bow before Him as sovereign Lord of all.
When Jesus directly unveiled the Father’s redemptive plan, His coming death and resurrection, Peter chided Him for even mentioning such a thing (16:21-23). So Jesus moved on and added more instruction on how to live a redeemed life. But He was not always gentle about it. His words get at us and into us, especially about ethics and values. They peel away skin, look deep, and sometimes draw blood as they remind us that how we inhabit our skins and live out our lives really matter.
Recently, I read a definition of virtue that was dispiriting: doing the right thing, to the right person, at the right time, to the proper extent, in the correct fashion, for the right reason. Then and there, I understood why holiness is a fight. Goodness is not natural to me. Knowing the tempests of our nature, public opinion, societal norms, and our struggle to live redeemed lives, Jesus offered directions, ways to stay the course, but also ways to tack and claw when a change is needed. Often, He used painful principles regarding money and possessions to peel away layers, to show us what we are and what we can be.
Perhaps you remember the two brief parables only Matthew recounts—the pearl and the hidden treasure (13:44-46). Jesus wasn’t saying that if we find jewels or treasures we should sell everything and buy them. Instead, his parables challenge whether we know what is truly precious, whether we recognize the value of His red thread of redemption.
A scene with a young rich man illustrates that test and how a person can fail it. After a conversation with Jesus, the young man walked away from infinite eternal reward and returned to his insufficient temporal and tawdry treasure because he did not recognize value when he saw it (19:16-30). On the other hand, the oft-married Samaritan woman had a searing thirst for eternal value, for she begged Jesus, “Give me this water” (John 4:15). Others passed the test as well: Cornelius, the Ethiopian eunuch, Lydia, the Philippian jailer—all men and women who understood the precious nature of redemption. The Apostle Paul’s words echo through history. Every treasure is rubbish, he wrote, dung in comparison to salvation (Philippians 3:8).
In Matthew 6, Jesus peeled back skin with a different kind of test, an implicit question stated indirectly, shaping His discourse and forming what teachers called a “thought question” in my youth. The question could not be answered with a yes or no. In this discourse, He poked and pried until we understand He is asking, “What do you treasure?”
His words draw blood to make me see what I need to see, to be what I need to be. They sear both heart and mind. There is pride;
He wounds it. There are sensitive sores; He scrapes them. He warns me to think before I act. To seek kingdom values. Watch my motives. Be genuine. Don’t put on a show.
Seven times in chapter six, Christ brought up the idea of reward and profit, whether I only care about short-term stuff: prestige, power, status, security, good looks, fine clothes. In the middle, He delivered another one-liner I don’t want to hear but need to. “Where’s your treasure, Brenda, because where your treasure is you will find your true devotion as well” (6:21).
I like Matthew’s green thread, his warnings and perspectives on money. I need the instruction, so I look to him for the don’ts.
But I need a manual of what to do as well, how to live beyond money in the grit and grind of life. Like the sinful Samaritan woman, I thirsted for Jesus’ redemptive living water and I drank. Now, I want to know the implications of redemption for my everyday life. I want it, and I want my blood-bought life to be fully blessed and redeemed, lived well every day, in every way. So, I look for Jesus’ red thread. Peel away skin, Jesus. Look deep. Draw blood. Whatever it takes.
About the Writer: Brenda Evans, a retired English teacher, lives in Catlettsburg, KY, with her husband Bill. She speaks regularly at women’s conferences and retreats, and is currently writing a memoir. Learn more about the Free Will Baptist Foundation at www.fwbgifts.org.