Will money make you happy? Arnold Schwarzenegger answers, “Money doesn’t make you happy. I now have $50 million but I was just as happy when I had $48 million.” On Monday night, October 4, 2021 a single ticket sold in the Morro Bay area of California won the $699.8 million Powerball lottery jackpot after matching all six numbers. As of Thursday, October 5 no one had yet claimed the mega-pile of money. As usual, journalists ran out of words trying to describe how “lucky” the single winner was. “Lucky” is an understatement. According to Grace Hauck in a USA TODAY online article (“We have a winner! Ticket sold in California wins $699.8 million Powerball jackpot”; Tue. Oct.5, 2021), “The odds of winning the grand prize were just 1 in 292.2 million, according to Powerball.” Hauck goes on to write that “you are more than 1,000 times as likely to find a pearl in an oyster shell or get struck by lightning…and twice as likely to get killed by a vending machine.” Whatever the odds, somebody apparently “won.”
Or have they? A little research on the internet reveals that lottery winners sometimes lose more than they win. According to Don McCay, a financial consultant to lottery winners and author of Life Lessons from the Lottery, “People commit suicide. People run through their money … they go through divorce, or people die.” McCay points out that often a sudden trainload of cash is an “upheaval they are not ready for. It’s the curse of the lottery because it made their lives worse instead of improving them” (quoted by Melissa Chan, time.com/47/176128/powerball-jackpot-lottery-winners; Jan.12, 2016).
I recently watched a woman at a convenience store in East Tennessee scratching – not an itch on her skin but one underneath it. She was scratching an itch to have more money. She was scratching on several lottery tickets to she if she had “won” anything. I wondered how long that itch has bothered her and how much money has she spent scratching it. Kin Hubbard hit on a novel idea about how to get more money or at least how to hold on to what you have. Hubbard said, “The best way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket.”
All that brings me to Jesus. What would Jesus say to mega-buck Powerball jackpot winners – and losers – and to the rest of us about money, whether we have loads of it piled up or end up, as many people do often do, with more month than money? Jesus spoke directly to the issue of money and all the material stuff it can buy in Matthew 6:24 where he warned money can become a master over us! The Son of God said, “No one can serve two masters; for either He will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” [or “money”]. Jesus’ message (along with the rest of the Bible) about money is dramatically different from the popular opinions of humans. People talk as if they own money when often just the opposite is true – money owns them! Note that Jesus doesn’t condemn money per se and doesn’t even condemn having a lot of it. His concern is that money can master us to the point it becomes our “god” – that is, we begin to serve it instead of it serving us and others. The result, in the words of another famous but often misquoted Bible passage, is that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Again, money itself is not the root of the evil, but a misplaced love and desire for it is, whether you haves lots of it or very little. As uncomfortable and unsophisticated as it might sound, the love of money is behind much of the lying, cheating, stealing, robbing, swindling, gambling, and murdering in our land. As Henry Fielding has noted, “If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil.” Many in our culture have made a god out of money, believing the devil’s lie that having a lot to live on is more important than having something to live for.
Oliver Goldsmith sums up the perverse effect money has on society when people make a god out of it: “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates, and men decay.” That’s a pretty good summary of what Jesus would say to Powerball jackpot winners – and losers – and even to those of us who don’t play Powerball. Be careful about money. What you make of it determines what it will make of you.