After the much-loved pastor died Feb. 21 at age 99, some media mentioned, just in passing, far below the overall story of his life, the net worth of the Rev. Billy Graham.
At an estimated $25 million, he certainly was comfortable.
Now, that's not his legacy. He inspired millions by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I wondered how many poor people could be helped by such sums of money, and it brought to mind a song sung by Ray Stevens:
Woke up this mornin', turned on the t.v. set
There in livin' color, was somethin' I can't forget
This man was preachin' at me, yeah, layin' on the charm
Askin' me for twenty, with ten-thousand on his arm
He wore designer clothing, and a big smile on his face
Sellin' me salvation while they sang Amazin' Grace
Askin' me for money, when he had all the signs of wealth
I almost wrote a check out, yeah, then I asked myself...
Would He wear a pinky ring, would He drive a fancy car?
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would His dressin' room have a star?
If He came back tomorrow, well there's somethin' I'd like to know
Could ya tell me, Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show.
Would Jesus be political if He came back to earth?
Have His second home in Palm Springs, yeah, and try to hide His worth?
Take money, from those poor folks, when He comes back again
And admit He's talked to all them preachers who say they been a talkin' to Him?
Well, you get the idea.
I don't mean to pick on the late Rev. Graham -- and, no disrespect intended. But it does make me wonder.
Why are there these super-rich pastors of mega churches? Doesn't the money donated go toward funding the work of spreading the gospel, helping the poor and others who are down and out, and similar needs?
Really. What would Jesus do?
Don't get me wrong: Far be it for me to claim angel wings when we talk about adhering to the teachings of Christ.
But it does make me wonder. A lot of things make me wonder.
I'm curious about crossing the lines between the government "endorsing" one religion over another and keeping religious freedom intact when Graham is given the rare gesture of lying in honor at the U.S. Capitol. Political leaders lined up Wednesday to praise him.
They certainly have a right to do that. But aren't they doing it in their capacity as government leaders? Is that really appropriate?
Again, I mean no disrespect to the late reverend. I'm Christian, too, yet I wonder if someone other than a follower of Jesus Christ would ever, in a million years, receive such a political honor. It just doesn't seem appropriate to me.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not a complete stickler for the "separation of church and state." I don't care if it says "In God We Trust" on our currency. I don't find that necessary, but I also don't find it offensive. Maybe I'd feel differently if I were an atheist.
It's all well and good to us Christians now that Christianity is practically endorsed by our government -- even though no religion is supposed to have that status in our nation -- but what if, for example, Buddhists became the majority in America? Would we be OK with "In Buddha We Trust" on our currency?
I don't think I'd be as neutral on that as I am on the words reflecting what I see as the Christians' God noted on money we exchange in America.
I guess this whole "rich pastor" thing does kind of stick in my craw. Material things aren't supposed to be our goal in life, according to Christian (and other religions') beliefs. Mary Chapin Carpenter has a few lines in the song "I Take My Chances" that have stuck with me:
I sat alone in the dark one night
Tuning in by remote
I found a preacher who spoke of the light
But there was brimstone in his throat
He'd show me the way according to him
In return for my personal check
I flipped my channel back to CNN
And I lit another cigarette ...
I don't mean to pick on Christian preachers. I'm Catholic, and I find some of the financial behavior of some clergy in the church to be reprehensible. Much of it has come to light under Pope Francis, who emphasizes service to the poor, humility, and modest living.
Some bishops and archbishops for decades lived in huge mansions, and many of those structures have been and are being sold now, since Francis became pope, for millions of dollars.
The New York Times reported in 2014 on the Atlanta archbishop's planned new mansion, with local Catholics getting vocal against it, and the archbishop then altering his plans. This is one of a number of similar changes since Pope Francis set an example by living in a modest residence at the Vatican. He chose that over the opulence of the typical papal quarters.
Pope Francis drives a modest car, too, and speaks of frugality.
As the Times quoted Francis: "It breaks my heart when I see a priest or a nun with the latest model of car. Cars are necessary, but take a more humble one. Think of how many children die of hunger.”
I'm not trying to compare the pope with the late Rev. Graham, and I'm certainly not saying one man is/was better than the other. I'm just using examples to illustrate why I wonder at the different interpretations, and manifestations, of people's view of Christ's word.
I most certainly appreciate Graham's way with words. Clearly, he had many God-given talents. One appropriate quote attributed to him: "When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost."
As an animal lover, I really like this one: "God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he'll be there."
And finally, words from Graham that ring true for us all: "Take one day at a time. Today, after all, is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday."
Who can't relate to that?
RIP, Billy Graham. You set an example for all.