Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What Jesus Commanded, Part 8: Money & Possessions

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46

Money & Possessions

“No one 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.” Matthew 6: 24

"Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Luke 12:15

“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” Luke 14:33

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.” Matthew 23:25-26

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21 (cf. Mark 10:21, )

“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  Mark 10:29-31

“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.” Luke 11:39-41

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:32 (cf. Matthew 6:19-20)

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous [this is what the Greek word actually means] money so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9

"If then you have not been faithful with unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 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.” Luke 16:10-13

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God."
Luke 16:14-15

“Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Luke 20:25 (cf. Matthew 22:1-14)

“You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 
Luke 18:20-25

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”
Luke 6:20-21

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.”
Luke 6:24-25

"If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you." Matthew 5:40-42 (cf. Luke 6:29)

“Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” Luke 6:30

“lend, expecting nothing in return.” Luke 6:35

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal." John 6:27


These are challenging commands of Jesus. The response of the disciples in Matthew 19:25 shows that they found his teaching challenging, astonishing even. And the rest of the New Testament reinforces the spirit of these commands: Acts2:44-45, Acts 4:32, 1 Timothy 3:1-8, 1 Timothy 6:9-11, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Hebrews13:5, Hebrews 10:34, Ephesians 4:28.

For centuries, the Church took Jesus at his word and condemned lending at interest as sinful. That teaching was rethought and "revisioned" in the 16th century as meaning not lending at exorbitant interest. Why? On what grounds? One can argue that this was a good thing. But it was still a reinterpretation.

St. Anthony the Great took the the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:21 seriously, sold all his possessions, and gave the proceeds to the poor. He then began the monastic movement which was an attempt to take Jesus at his word. Perhaps if we call Jesus Lord and desire to take him seriously we should all become monks and nuns.

If we claim Jesus as Lord and desire to take him seriously but balk at taking these commands at face value we have to ask "Why?" And why do we insist on taking the plain meaning of other things in the Bible seriously if we are prepared to find nuance and alternative ways of interpreting these words of Jesus?

I don't have a simple answer. Most Christians throughout history have not been monks or nuns. I am not a monk. I do, however, cherish the monastic witness to the gospel. 

At the very least, Jesus' commands challenge those of us who call him Lord to examine how we think about and engage the poor. Jesus, the rest of the New Testament, and the Old Testament are all clear that God is particularly concerned for the poor and that we should be as well.

The above commands also challenge our relationship with money and possessions. Is there such a thing as having too much? What do we do with what we have? How much should we keep? How much should we give away? What might it look like to live more simply? How do we cultivate a spirit of detachment toward money and stuff? 

I suspect that most of us should give away more than we do. 10% of our income is often suggested as the benchmark. But even those of us who do that might well ask if we are still bound to our money and possessions. Another benchmark might be to give until it hurts, until there are things we want to buy or do but cannot because we have defunded ourselves.

Give to the Church to support the body of Christ and his mission. Give to the poor. Give away enough to be assured that God is your master rather than wealth.

Next: What Jesus Commanded, Part 9: Peace and Violence

Previous: What Jesus Commanded, Part 7: Sex, Marriage, & Family

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