Posted by: rogermitchell | March 4, 2014

Jesus and money: reblogged from Philip Evans with thanks

I thought that this post of three days ago by Philip Evans of the All Souls Clubhouse was so good that I have copied it verbatim.

JESUS and MONEY
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other,
or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Jesus of Nazareth

I’m surprised that none of Jesus’ listeners challenged his assumption that people serve money. The first time the statement is recorded is in the Sermon on the Mount; the second was as Jesus confronted the religious establishment, which professed to serve God but who in fact were ‘lovers of money’ (see Matthew 6:19-34 & Luke 16:13-15). He never said anything similar about other vices: he didn’t, for example, say, ‘You cannot serve God and sex’. Nor did he say the more obvious, ‘You cannot serve God and the devil’!

Today, we take it for granted that people serve money. Money is the driving force of modern society and economic theory is a primary means of studying and explaining human life; maximising profit is the goal of modern business and every personal, moral choice has to be financially viable. Money itself is the global status symbol, promising freedom, security, purpose, power, happiness – and even love. Some people make its accumulation their life’s goal; others see it as the path to fulfilment or the things it can buy as defining who they are.

But it hasn’t always been this way and that’s why older translations of Jesus’ statement don’t say ‘money’ but ‘mammon’. The difference is still important. Money is a tool, invented at various times in history in various parts of the world, as if for the first time, to enable people to exchange goods and services easily. That’s why there’s no sin or evil in being rich, although wealth brings with it responsibility and many challenges.

But money evolved and took on a life of its own. It became more than just a tool for living – even an indispensable tool – and acquired the power of ‘the force of an idea whose time had come’. That’s why generations of artists have portrayed mammon as a demon. When enough people began to give disproportionate importance to money, entire societies began to revolve around it. Everyone else had little choice but to rely on money too. That is, unless they trusted God sufficiently to underwrite their obedience to living by his criteria.

The Sermon on the Mount describes a lifestyle that puts God and people first: not first ‘by a head’ but way ahead of every other consideration. I’m sure Jesus included his statement about serving God and mammon so his followers would not be deterred from living the way he described by the financial consequences.

Most people today, including most Christians, would say that they do put God and people first, and they would be sincere in saying so, but in my experience financial issues often come such a close second they divert attention and compromise rationale and behaviour. I’ve experience this in my own lifestyle choices and seen it in others. I’ve also seen churches submit what they believe to be God’s will to financial criteria, not quite believing that God will provide the resources for what he calls them to do but waiting for the money to be banked before taking even a first step of faith.

Money is system of trust. This was the case when everyday things like seashells and coloured beads were used as the first money. It remained the case, to some degree at least, even when coins were made of gold and silver but today it’s more true than ever. Almost all money now exists as data in sophisticated banking systems and there is so very much of it that Planet Earth lacks the resources to convert it all into material wealth. Even the 2-3% of money that are coins and banknotes exist in the real world only like a novel, giving expression to an idea but not really real.

This is another reason why we can’t serve both God and money. We can either live in grateful dependence upon God, using money as the tool it was created to be, or we can rely on humankind’s ultimate system of trust, loving and serving the money we think we need to live. The Pharisees who listened to Jesus were prime examples of this: they purported to serve God but loved money. Next weekend, I plan to look at why Jesus called their wealth ‘unrighteous’.

© All Souls Clubhouse Community Centre & Church and Philip Evans 2014.
Please feel free to copy, print and share these Reflections on a non-profit basis.

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Responses

  1. I find this really helpful. We all live in this comprehensive system. Everything I need essentially, has to be negotiated through money. It makes living otherwise very difficult. As a university teacher who teaches about the environment I’ve noticed that it is diffcult for students to focus on real issues that will determine their futures. For example – climate change. I did a session this week on it and raised the possibilty of urban homesteading – that is producing most of one’s food on a small amount of land. Certainly the extreme weather we see coming with climate change will challenge global food production and distribution. What better way to be free of the need to exchange money than to grow your own food? I used to tell the blue rinse set in churches who grew their own tomatoes that they were radicals challenging the system.

    But here’s the thing. My students all thought that looked like a lot of work. They did not see freedom in it. A few hours of tending one’s garden in order to be free to be ‘unemployed’ and focus on relationships did not appeal. It means giving up too much. And that is where the issue of distraction comes in. Serving mammon/money distracts us. It keeps our heads busy with the wrong things. And so my students are distracted with tuition costs, costs of living, the need to earn money to pay for all of that (and to pay back school loans), the need to get a job after school and on and on. They are distracted from their education not by social media but by the economic system they must appease in order to exist. Its unfortunate and of course, caused by their elders, who have the power to change the system if they wanted to.

    I live in a co-housing situation. I attempt, on a limited scale, to focus on the right things by enacting the action of gifting whenever possible. Extra food isn’t tossed, it is passed onto the 16 year old living in the house (not mine) who loves vegetables. I take time to make sure the house is running well so that none of my tenants (rents are as low as I can get away with) and co-housers are inconvenienced. It is a small attempt to rescue myself and the household from the distraction that money (and often the sense of lack thereof) brings into our lives.


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