Proverbs 22 has as its main theme the issues of riches, the poor, and justice.
The first verse sets the tone, and it is a verse many of us have read before:
"A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold."
Tara and I are busy trying to pick a name for a soon-to-be-born baby. If it is a girl, we think we've landed on a beautiful, meaningful, good name; if it is a boy...well we're still searching.
Part of our criteria for picking a name: a short name so that it won't be shortened to a nickname, a two syllable name, it can't start with the letter H, and it has to sound right when uttered with the names of the other three siblings, we can't use the name Gunther or Gunner, it needs to have some kind of family history/personal/biblical link to it, and it has to sound good with the middle name which is already predetermined for the most part.
But this is not what the Proverb means by a good name. A good name is not something you get at birth, it is something earned through life. In the ancient days, names were given that carried a specific meaning for which the parents hoped the child would live out; or the name was given to commemorate some event surrounding the birth/conception of the child. For example, Abraham's son Isaac - his name means "laughter" because Sarah the mother laughed when she heard that she would be able to conceive a child at the age of 80. Or Jesus, his name means "God will save", and that was the description of his life.
This proverb, though, is summing up observations made by normal people through the centuries: at the end of the day, people generally would rather have good friends standing by their deathbed then piles of wealth and no real friends. People wrapping up their life are happier when they have good stories to tell of good times with good friends and the good deeds they did to help out people who needed a good break; much happier then people who boast and brag about what they accomplished in life, keeping quiet on the people they trampled, the family they ignored, and the earth that they polluted.
I go through these periods where I get really envious of people who are wealthier than me. I want to live a life where I've earned a job that pays lots of money so that I can have a bigger house, a big SUV, a big boat, a big vacation place, a big savings account, a big etc. Then I would have the good life, right? Then I would be happy? Then I would know that I am successful?
Wisdom instructs that for most people in most places in most of history - wealth corrupts your soul, accumulation of riches often costs you your love for others, and God. Some people can handle lots of wealth and lots of love. Some people. But for people like you and me, we are way better off by pursuing a good life, a good name, a good reputation with people who are in need then by pursuing more possessions and money and trying to impress people with power and more possessions. Envy ruins everything. Covetousness is a root of all kinds of evil.
Near the middle of this list of proverbs is this one:
"Those who oppress the poor to increase their wealth
and those who give gifts to the rich -
both come to poverty."
Though you may not oppress the poor personally, do you bear any responsibility for your employer's abuse of the poor? The bigger the company, the more likely they mistreat the poor - despite their benevolent funds. Of course some small business' are not more sacred - they can be run by greedy people just as well as some big business'. Just like some churches.
And when you consider who to have over for dinner parties, does the list include people you are trying to impress, people who you are hoping will like you more and thus you can gain from the relationship? This is called networking for your own gain. Or do you ever consider having just your friends over, to have a good time, a meal to enjoy with them and bless them? Or do you once in awhile invite some people over who you know need a good neighbor, they need a break, they need someone to listen...
Go for a good name...it's better for your soul than silver and gold.