Date: February 26, 1931
One of the Twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. – Matthew 26:14-15
IF it were possible to analyze the causes for the great tragedies in human history, we should find indeed that one of the most devastating forces in our human make-up is the insatiable greed for gold. Think of Genghiz Khan, the gold-crazed Mongol emperor and conqueror of Asia, who in twenty-two years of bloody massacres slaughtered more than 15,000,000 human beings, stripped city after city of its treasures, and left a howling wilderness in the wake of his ravaging hordes. Think of Pizarro, the deceitful butcher, who, in the name of religion and with the cross of Christ on his standards, made the streets of the Andes country run red with the life-blood of native Peruvians. One day he seized the reigning Inca, struck down four thousand princes in cold blood, took possession of their treasures, and demanded a large room filled with gold as the ransom for the Peruvian monarch; and when this extortion price was paid, he perfidiously proceeded to have the unfortunate Inca burned to a horrible death.
THE GRASP OF GREEDY JUDAS.
Think of all this and of other crimson carnages in history that have been instigated by greed-inflamed degenerates; but remember that more staggering than all of these, more depraved than any exhibition of human depravity, is the sin of covetousness and greed that produced the supertragedy of all history, the sale of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, by Judas Iscariot for thirty pieces of silver.
He was no ordinary criminal, this smirking traitor who delivered our Lord into the hands of the hostile clergy. He was one of the Twelve, one of that wondrously blessed company which for three years had been privileged to walk with Jesus and to receive the precious pearls of instruction that fell from His divine lips. Nor was he an ordinary disciple; for we may believe, as his name indicates, that he was a Judean, a fellow-countryman of our Lord, and not a Galilean, like the rest of the Twelve. Besides, he was the treasurer of what treasury there was in that happy communal life of Christ and His disciples. We should consequently suppose that Judas would be the last to violate the trust that had been placed in him and to betray the Lord of lords, of whose love and power he had been a direct and frequent witness. But the contact with money shriveled his greedy soul; he became so inflamed by the fire of avarice that he stretched out his hand and stole; and when the gentle Savior raised His voice in warning, Judas, with visions of big and easy money, ran to the high priest with this question of betrayal on his lips, “What will ye give me and I will deliver Him unto you?”
And what did they give him after their formal bargaining for innocent blood? Thirty paltry pieces of silver, about $19.50 in our money. Thirty pieces of cold silver! Why, the traffickers in human flesh at the slave-markets would curse and haggle for more than that as the price for the meanest slave that the Nabataean kidnapers might drag across the desert! Thirty pieces of traitor’s money,—only enough to buy the field of blood in a deserted corner outside the city walls where the unclaimed dead might be buried! Thirty pieces of silver,—which sent the Savior to the cross and hurled Judas into hell!
THE TRAGIC PERPETUATION OF THIS GRASPING GREED.
Judas, for whom it had been better had he never been born, died in the agony of horror-stricken despair as his body dangled at the end of a suicide’s noose. But the spirit of Judas lives on, and his question, “What will ye give me?” is the great impulse behind much of the tragedy in our modern life. I believe that people of today, probably more than those of any other previous generation in our country, need to be on vigilant guard against the encroachments of this money-worshiping, “get-what-you-can” spirit. They are surrounded on all sides by men whose right vision has been blinded by the glitter of gold, whose everlasting question is, “What will ye give me?” “What is there in it for me?” Oh, we speak deploringly of the heathen in India and of their prostration before the dumb idols of their own benighted manufacture. We are depressed when we think of the crude and brutal fetishes which pagan unbelief has raised up as its gods. But all this, even in its most sordid and abject forms, is not as appalling and as damnable as when in our own country and in our twentieth and enlightened century men and women, young and old, who lay claim to intelligence and, in some instances, to a knowledge of the Word of God, will prostrate themselves before the dumb and grinning idol that is labeled “Mammon,” and in an endless chorus chant the litany of their worship, “What will ye give me?” “What can I get out of it?”
This love of money, which God’s Word calls “the root of all evil,” has been the destructive impulse in our political life, where officials occupying positions of honor and trust succumb to the spirit of bribery and dishonesty; where judges and jurists, to whom God and man look for the impartial execution of justice and for the conscientious enforcement of the laws of the land, ask, “What will ye give me?” and put a price upon their decisions; where police officials and servants of the public, the guardians of law and order, have become so corrupt that gangsters and racketeers, rum-runners and beer barons, flourish insolently under their protection.
The greedy love of money is the root of our business and economic evils. Let people talk about the laws of supply and demand, overproduction and restricted production, human labor and machine labor, exports and imports,—the really basic human factor in the depression and retardation of industrial happiness is the avaricious reaching after gold. Here is an employer who selfishly builds up his fortune through the sweat and blood of his workmen, through the exploitation of women and children; and here is an employee who greedily opposes the interests of his employer, steals time, and destroys property. Here are the vultures in human form who promote fraudulent investments by which the meager funds of the widow and the orphan are deliberately stolen. Here are the thousands of embezzlers and forgers, profiteers and extortioners, burglars and robbers, because of whom the people of the United States every day lose almost $25,000,000, or more than a million dollars every hour that we live!
The relentless pursuit of the allegedly almighty dollar is likewise the root of many of the unhappy conditions in the Church today. When churches openly cater to the wealthy, forgetting the special emphasis that our Lord and His Word lay upon the poor and the afflicted; when the vast millions of some of America’s leading men of wealth are solicited and accepted to support the modernistic form of unbelief that has no room for the Christ of the Bible; when churches teach in theory and maintain in practise that you can buy the priceless gift of the forgiveness of sins for cold cash, purchase the power of prayer, and sell the grace of God; when churches try to secure their funds, not from the free and loving gifts of church-members, but by wheedling or coercing infidels and scoffers to make unwilling and extortionate contributions or by taking recourse to roulette wheels, games of chance, and forms of gambling, all condemned by the law of the land; when they do this in the holy name of the Lord of love, you can see that the question of Judas, “What will ye give me?” is not at all remote from some of our modern churches.
But the menace of money madness has also invaded the sanctity of our homes. If you could take out of our present-day family life all the quarrels that center around finances, all the blighting influences that have been provoked by the inordinate love of money, you could establish an era of unparalleled happiness and harmony. But these are the conditions that we actually meet: Here is a father who takes a gifted son out of school and puts him to work at some menial form of labor, so that he can bring home a few dollars every week that the family really does not need. Here is a son who earns a fine salary, but who, forgetting the practical implications of the divine command, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” refuses to contribute to the support and the welfare of his home and his parents and squanders his income for selfish purposes. Here at the casket of a self-sacrificing mother is a group of hysterical, high-pitched sons and daughters desecrating her memory by arguing over her property and threatening to air their contentions at court. Here—
But let us draw the curtain over these unpleasant scenes, and let me tell you that in your life and mine this question, “What will ye give me?” plays a more shocking role than most of us like to admit. Every human being, by the endowment of a corrupted nature, is selfish and self-centered. To his perverted vision, life is truly a survival of the fittest financially, with every man for himself. “Get what you can” and “never mind how you get it” is one of the most assertive ideals in our current philosophy of living.
Now, I do not wish to stand before this microphone and condemn those who have a rich supply of this world’s goods. For with the Scriptural endorsement of Abraham, Joseph, Job, David, Lydia, and others, to whom God extended particularly generous temporal blessings, there is nothing reprehensible in wealth itself. Indeed, there are today princes of finance who are humble and grateful followers of Christ and to whom the Church, humanly speaking, owes much. The happiness and joy of soul that is theirs in accepting the privilege of stewardship shows the blessing that is attached to money acquired and distributed in the spirit of Christ.
But the trouble today is this, that too many “lay up treasures for themselves and are not rich toward God.” They forget the words of Christ, “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” While most of us restrain our hands from deliberately stealing our neighbor’s property, the com mandments “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not covet,” embrace the thoughts and desires, the words and wishes, of envy and covetousness and greed; and there is not a single person in my audience tonight who must not plead guilty to the accusation of having harbored and nourished such thoughts.
Now, there is no more timely and direct warning against the selfish desire for wealth than the remarkable words which St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Indeed, “if a man gain the whole world and lose his own soul,” as Jesus says, there is no profit for him, nothing but disastrous, damning loss.
THE DIVINE ANTIDOTE.
Remember, there is one, and only one, power that can counteract this inborn, greedy love for money. We can have crime commissions that sit for a hundred years, police regulations and governmental legislations of the most comprehensive and severe kind; these and all other human arrangements will never meet the expectations placed in them. We must have Jesus Christ, first to forgive the sins of greed and avarice in our individual lives and then, through His Spirit, to give us that sense of honesty and truth, that ability to keep things temporal subject to things spiritual, that confident devotion, which makes us declare with St. Paul, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord.”
Your Savior can do all this and more for you. If there are those listening in tonight whose consciences are burdened with acts of dishonesty or theft, let them now, in penitence and contrition, with the avowed intention of making adequate restitution, come to that Savior whom these Lenten weeks picture to us nailed on the cross for the sins of the world; and let them see Him in those hours of agony turn His thorn-crowned head to one of the thieves crucified with Him, answering his plea for forgiveness with the promise of glory, “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” Let them gain the assurance that the blood which dripped from those sacred wounds is the only cleansing power that can purify their lives, give them the assurance of heaven, and send them out into life with new determination and new power.
Of all religions of which men have ever heard the Gospel of your Savior that knocks at your heart tonight is the only creed that relegates money to the insignificant place which it rightly deserves, the only religion that operates “without money and without price.” That love which was freely extended to all, the love that tells us “it is better to give than to receive,” the love that came to serve and not to be served, that love is the great incentive in the lives of the Christian heroes and martyrs, the pioneers in charity and self-sacrificing service, who have offered their lives, their energies, their treasures, for Christ’s service,—not asking the cost, not demanding reward, not insisting “What will ye give me?” but rather thanking God for the blessed privilege of serving in the name of Jesus Christ, content with their food and raiment, satisfied that “we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
Have you found the secret of profound happiness and contentment? Do you know and believe and trust the Savior, who so despised the tarnished and corroding treasures of human existence that, “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye, through His poverty, might be rich”; that Christ who was offered all the gold and the accumulated possessions of the entire world by Satan in the payment of just one act of disloyalty, but who uncompromisingly refused? Remember, unfailing Source of life and hope that He is, He offers to all who believe in Him and cling to His unfailing promises the treasures of heaven, too divine to be consumed by moth or rust, too precious to be measured by human standards, too priceless to be purchased by the best gold of Ophir,—the gift of His own holy, precious blood, offered to all, free and without price. Oh, tonight, as you behold Him suffering, wounded, rejected for your sins, may God give you the grace to stop in the mad rush of a self-absorbed life, to kneel down before His cross, and to ask in faith:—
Thy life was giv’n for me,
Thy blood, O Lord, was shed,
That I might ransomed be
And quickened from the dead.
Thy life was giv’n for me:
What have I giv’n for Thee?
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.