19 Sep Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deacon Blaine Barclay
September 18, 2016
What is the relationship between God and money? This is a huge question, and how we answer it cannot help but be decisive for the whole of our lives. As people who live in this world, we cannot help but be involved with and concerned about money. We deal with it, or the lack of it, every day of our lives. We use it to pay our rent, or mortgage, buy our food, provide for our loved ones, plan for our future, and deal with our past, especially if we are in debt. In short, the relationship with money is seemingly all pervasive, it touches almost every aspect of our lives. This is why Jesus taught so directly and forcefully about money and why the church today has such a clear and well developed Social Doctrine.
Both our first reading and the gospel speak about unjust wealth. The Prophet Amos is very concerned about how people acquire wealth on the backs of the poor. He speaks of those who, ’’trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land’’. For the prophets, how we treat the poor is the true measure of the quality of our relationship with God. So what does Jesus say about the relationship between God and money? First of all, he tells a parable where an unjust slave forgives his commission, his portion of the debt owed to his master, as a way of creating good will toward himself. Listen once again to part of the gospel from today, ’’No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth’’. Another translation says, ’’ You cannot worship God and Money both’’.
The relationship with God is also all pervasive, it touches upon every aspect of our lives, our hopes for the future, how we deal with our past, our relationships with family, friends, and enemies, and yes, even our economic choices. It is precisely this all pervasiveness of both God and money that makes our relationship with money so important from a religious perspective. After all, the golden calf of Mount Sinai, talked about in last Sunday’s first reading, was made out of the melted down wealth of Egypt. A decisive choice is necessary.’’ You cannot serve both God and money?’’ As Bob Dylan said on Slow Train Coming, ’’You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but your gonna have to serve somebody’’. Of course, Jesus wasn’t an economist, but he actually taught quite a bit about economic matters such as wealth and poverty, possessions, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, about not worrying about what you’re going to eat or wear, things like blessed are the poor, and woe to you who are rich. St. Paul, writing to Timothy even goes so far is to say that, ’the love of money is the root of all evil’. In the book of Acts, at least some of the early Christians held their property in common, and so understood that the gospel was meant to revolutionize their economic relationships.
During the Patristic period of the early church we find statements such as St. John Chrysostom, ’’not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and to deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs’’. Similarly, St. Augustine says, ’’that bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless’’. The Didache, an anonymous early Christian writing says, ’’do not be one who holds his hand out to take but shuts it when it comes to giving’’.
So where does this leave all of us? What is the relationship between God and money? Providentially we have the Social Doctrine of the church to give us some guidance in these matters. Over the last 150 years the Pope’s have published a series of Social Encyclicals that have outlined the teaching of the Church on issues related to social justice, peace, the relationship between labor and capital, and a just economic order. In conclusion, I will mention only four basic principles of this Social Doctrine of the Church that directly relate to the relationship between God and money, or, if you like, ‘faith and our economic activity’. The first principle of the Social Doctrine the Church is the dignity of the human person. The other social teaching principles flow from and are grounded in this first principle. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of a, ‘’preferential love for the poor, sick, and needy’’. St. John Paul II wrote of ‘the priority of labor over capital’, that when it comes to the world of work, people are more important than profits. As we have already seen from the quotes from the Church Fathers, the church also teaches that there is a ‘social mortgage on the goods of the earth’, what is called,’ the universal destination of goods’. We might say today that the created goods of the earth are intended for everyone, not just the 1% ers. As Pope Frances said in an interview last year,’’ the gospel message is for everyone, the gospel does not condemn the wealthy, but the idolatry of wealth, the idolatry that makes people indifferent to the call of the poor’’.