She was the world’s most successful female entrepreneur. She was eulogized as the first female self-made millionaire in America. Yet when she died, her net worth was slightly over half a million dollars. What happened? Madame CJ Walker, who rose from the cotton fields in the south to become the owner of one of the most successful businesses of her time realized that money wasn’t a goal, it was a tool. She used her wealth to help others, to mobilize the African-American community, and to fight against the evils of the society she lived in. Some people, in their pursuit of wealth, become slaves to the acquisition of money. Others use their wealth as a tool to make the world a better place.
Madame CJ Walker saw her wealth as a tool to make a difference in her world. It wasn’t what she kept that was important, it was what she gave away. It was what she used to make a difference. Money can be a real problem for many people. For some, their whole life revolves around making, spending, and keeping money. They become hoarders and misers. They won’t even use their money to make themselves comfortable. Dickens captured that attitude in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Jesus reminded us that all the treasures of earth will disappear and that our goal should be treasure in heaven. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)
The treasures of this earth are perishable. They deteriorate or fade away. Precious stones and metals like diamonds, silver, and gold become targets for thieves. To paraphrase an old joke, they are nothing more than building material in heaven. Jesus reminds us in His teachings that our goal is not material wealth, our goals should be an eternal treasure that lasts forever. That creates a conundrum for people who remind us that they’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer attached to hold one’s earthly goods. Societies that sought to leave their kings with treasures for the afterlife soon discovered that they did nothing more than create banks for thieves who would withdraw the treasures at will. What are these treasures in heaven? What are these treasures that last forever? The treasures Jesus is speaking about are the changed lives of people who come to know God because we are faithful in using the wealth God has given us to proclaim His kingdom.
God is never impressed by our material wealth. In the parable of the sheep and the goats we see that God recognizes works that help others: feeding the poor, clothing the naked, caring for the sick among others. He doesn’t limit that service to those with great wealth; He calls us to be accountable for the wealth we have whether it is a lot or a little. Thieves and moths can’t destroy or steal a life that is changed forever because we introduce them to the forgiveness and mercy of God. Making that kind of difference in the lives of others will be our treasure in heaven. Ultimately, though, our greatest treasure in heaven will be the fact that we are there and we are with our Lord forever. When it comes to material wealth, many will ask, when we die, how much we left. The answer of course, will be “all of it.” The greater question should be, “What did he (or she) gain?” May God help us all that the answer be “the joy of heaven.”
Oh Lord, it’s so easy to focus on things in this world: the latest, greatest, and newest things to give pleasure. Remind me that all that I have should be used to gain treasure in heaven.