Pastoral Message: February 2018
We have a funny, love-hate relationship with money. When we don’t have it, we wish we did; when we do have it, we worry that someone else will take it from us or we moan about how quickly it disappears. In church we quote scripture about how the love of money is the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:10), even as we encourage people to put money in the offering plate since God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Yuval Harari, in his fascinating book Sapiens, points out that people may disagree about many things in life—religion, politics, sports—but we universally share common views about money. As he puts it, “Whereas religion asks us to believe in something, money asks us to believe that other people believe in something.” Global trading networks developed long ago only because people from different lands, speaking mutually incomprehensible languages and worshiping distinct gods all shared a common belief in the value of gold and silver coins. So they would trade these bits of metal for silk in China, spices in East Asia, and grain from India. Both parties benefited from this common belief in money.
Harari suggests that money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap and does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. What we do with that money can undermine the mutual trust, just as extreme inequities involving money have led to famine, war, and revolutions. But for a moment, it is fitting to give thanks for the simple trust system inherent in money—a system that allows us to travel anywhere in the world (or welcome someone from anywhere in the world) and relate to one another as friends, peers, and citizens of one global economy.
The season of Lent begins later this month. Perhaps it is time for us to break our silence about money. A Lenten discipline might involve spending some time imagining how the money over which we exert control might be used to nurture trust in others (in keeping with its fundamental value as a connector and trust-builder between people). If the simple dollar bill or financial transaction between us and another person is only possible so long as we believe in what that person believes in (namely, money), what other beliefs do we share in common with others that might “earn interest” and bless the common good?
Jesus spoke a fair amount about money. But for this Lenten exercise of ours, call to mind the time when he was asked about paying the temple tax in Jerusalem and was shown a coin engraved with the likeness of Caesar. In that moment he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). May all our monetary acts be done giving priority to the ways of the Lord and may it evoke the trust that is at the heart of all money—so our resources and our common belief can nurture hope in today’s troubled and distracted world.