Podcast discussion with Eric Barreto, Cameron Howard, and Rolf Jacobson. Article written by Rolf A. Jacobson.
Ask a Stupid Question...
Would Jesus shop on Black Friday? First of all, nobody knows. But -- in case you are the one person in North America who doesn’t know what Black Friday is -- Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. Which makes it the first day of the Christmas shopping season.
The day when there are crazy, door-busting, jaw-dropping, loss-leader sale prices on everything from flat screen TVs and computers, to underwear and dental floss. If America worships the false god of consumerism and America’s false god is the cash register, then this day is the holiest day of the year.
But let’s admit this much first -- nobody does know and nobody can know whether Jesus would shop on Black Friday.
But, as one of my teachers once said: “There are no stupid questions, just stupid people who ask questions.” Huh?
Try again. As my dad once said to me: “Ask a stupid question and you’ll get a stupid answer.”
So, since nobody can know whether Jesus would shop on Black Friday, why am I writing an essay trying to answer the question?
First, a somewhat snarky response. I am writing this essay because, to quote Michael Bridges from the band Lost and Found, “First and foremost, I am a business man.”
I got an email offering me the lofty sum of $25 to try to answer the question. And since I am a business man, I decided to write the article, collect the $25, stick it in my wallet until Thanksgiving, and then go shopping on Black Friday.
I’ve got your false god of consumerism right here in my sinful little heart.
Second, a more serious response. Yes, nobody can know whether Jesus would or would not shop on Black Friday. But that doesn’t mean we cannot reflect theologically on the whole matter of Christmas shopping.
Jesus taught a lot of things about money. He talked much more often about money than he did about sex, after all.
So, take this essay with a great big grain of salt, or in fact, a shaker of salt. All I am offering here is a little theological reflections on money, shopping, and consumerism.
What We Do With our Treasure Will Determine Where our Hearts Will Be
Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Don’t believe me? Luke 12:34. You can look it up. Go ahead. I’ll wait while you either Google it or find a paper-and-ink Bible and flip to Luke 12.
You back? Okay.
I studied this passage recently. Don’t be shocked. That is what I do. I am a full-time Bible nerd. I study the Bible.
So, as I was saying, I studied this passage recently and I realized that for most of my life, I have been misinterpreting this simple text.
Here is how I used to understand this text: Your money follows your heart.
If you worship fashion and clothing, your monthly exercise of balancing your checkbook will reflect this, because treasure follows heart.
If you worship cars and other automobiles, your annual budget review will reveal this, because treasure follows heart.
If you worship God, then your charitable giving will reflect this, because treasure follows heart. I know that I have heard that sermon. And I am pretty sure that somewhere -- either in an old box of sermon manuscripts, or on an old 3.5” disk of sermons from the Year of Luke -- there is a record that I have preached that sermon.
Have you ever heard that sermon? That you ought to put your money where your heart is?
But here’s thing. That’s not what Jesus said. Notice this. Jesus didn’t say, “For where your heart is, there should your money be also.”
Rather, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Or, to put the message in the language I have been using, “heart follows treasure.” Notice that -- not treasure follows heart, but heart follows treasure.
What you do with the treasure God has given to you will determine where your heart will end up. Not the reverse.
Where you spend your treasure, there your heart will follow. In other words, where you direct your treasure, your heart will follow.
What the good Lord offers here is not challenge to us -- put your money where you faith is -- but rather a simple, eloquent commentary on human nature. Christ is saying to us -- this is how it works with flesh-and-blood folk. Heart follows treasure.
What you do with your treasure will determine where your heart will be.
Heart Follows Treasure -- What This Means for Shopping and Buying
In light of rethinking these words of Jesus, I reflected on my own experience with money and buying stuff. And I discovered that my own experience confirmed Jesus’ commentary regarding treasure and human nature,
When we buy a product there is an “unhappy exchange” that happens.
The unhappy exchange is this:
When we hand over our money for a product, in exchange, the producer of said product also takes our loyalty.
This is perhaps the central mystery and paradox that is consumerism. [And by the way, I am not against consumerism. Having markets and money and a certain amount of choice about where I can spend my money and on what -- these, in my opinion are for the most part good things. Markets and consumerism are powerful forces that are, for the most part, good.]
But as with all powerful forces in our lives, we need to work to understand consumerism and markets. And at the heart of consumerism rests a complex bargain. And here is how it works.
When we give a vendor our money, in exchange the vendor also lays a claim on our loyalty. Let me say that again. When we give our vendor our money, in exchange the vendor also lays a claim on our loyalty.
An example: Let’s say you buy an expensive smart phone. At the point of purchase, you have choices. Check a box:
[ ] iPhone
[ ] Blackberry
[ ] Galaxy
[ ] Other
Once you make your choice, pick your poison, and turn it on, the company makes a powerful claim on your loyalty. And unless you have a really bad experience -- like I once had with a glass of orange juice, but let’s not go there -- unless you have a bad experience, there is a good chance you will be back for more.
When you spend a significant amount of money on a consumer product you don’t want it to be a bad investment.
So you tell yourself, “I made a good choice. A wise decision.”
In fact, you say, “I would make this choice again if I had it to do all over again. And, in fact, I will do it again. In two years, when my contract is up, I’ll buy another.”
Your friend, who bought a different smart phone, tries to convince you that she made the right choice. Because she is a consumer, too, and her smart phone is claiming her loyalty, too.
But at the end of the conversation, through the complex metallurgy of the consumer exchange, you and your friend are still loyal to your respective choices.
And Jesus says to you: “Because that is how treasure works. Where you put your treasure, there your heart will follow! It’s right there in Luke 12:34, why are you acting like I never told you this!”
It has always been this way. There are Mac people and Windows people.
There are Coke people and Pepsi people.
There are Levi’s people and Wrangler people.
As a teenager, one of my friend’s dad was a Ford man. All he would buy were Fords, and all his kids drove Fords. Because they are Ford people.
My 9-year-old son is an Axe guy. I am an Old Spice guy. We don’t think about it, but when we shop, he chooses his brand and I choose mine.
Where your send your treasure, your heart with follow.
Where You Send Your Treasure on Black Friday, Your Heart Will Follow
All of this is not necessarily bad news.
If we can understand how treasure works, we can use our treasure to steer our hearts -- a little at least.
First, at least a small degree, you have some influence over your heart.
You cannot control your heart, and you certainly don’t have free will over your heart.
But you do have some influence. If you want your heart to go in some direction, start putting your treasure there.
A story from a friend fits here.
In her life, after she reflected on Jesus’ words, she started tipping the working poor people in our society more than she used to.
Not only does she now tip more money. She also tips more people, more often.
Instead of $2 per bag at the airport, she gives the baggage guys $5 per bag.
When she leaves a hotel, she tries to leave $5 per night rather than $3.
And here is what she told me happened to her: She did not become a better person. But she became more aware of the working poor around her. She is not more righteous, but something like scales fell away from her eyes and she started seeing the working poor everywhere.
And she also became happier. As she became more aware of the working poor and thus became more generous, she became happier.
She discovered this secret of life: generous people are more happy than non-generous people. (My friend Mark Allan Powell taught me that lesson.)
So, would Jesus shop on Black Friday? I don’t know. But I suspect he would shop at a store that treats their employees well. That offers benefits and daycare. I suspect Jesus would tip the guys who carry out the new TV, the new sofa.
I suspect Jesus would be sure to tip the pizza guy his biggest tip of the night -- because the pizza guy worked all day at one job, and now is working nights delivering pizza so that he can afford presents for his kids.
I don’t know this. But I suspect.
A Word of Really Good News
And now, for the really good news.
The Father in heaven already knows that heart follows treasure.
And the Father in heaven knew this when he sent his only begotten Son to live and love and die for us.
Any parent’s greatest treasures are their children. And the heavenly Father is no different.
God sent the Son, so that where the Son is, the heavenly Heart would be also.
God’s heart followed the Son. And when the Son came into your life, the Father’s heart followed.
And the Son has returned to the Father’s heart. And so the Son says this to you:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (See John 14:1-4)
A Merry Christmas, Blessed Advent, and a Generous Black Friday to all.
Rolf A. Jacobson is associate professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.