Recently, I was talking with a group of socially conscious Catholic friends about money. The question came up, “How does being Catholic influence how we think about money?”
Our answers were revealing.
The bummer of bucks
One mentioned Jesus’ parable about it being easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven. Another noted that the disciples were asked to leave behind all their material possessions on the spot to follow Jesus. A third remembered Jesus overturning the merchants’ tables at the Temple because they were selling things (see box below).
No wonder many of us are operating in our current lives from the point of view that you’re a better person and a better Catholic if you have less money rather than more.
Some scholars say that when Jesus overturned the tables of the merchants in the Temple, it was actually a dramatic protest. The merchants and moneychangers sold animals for sacrifice and changed Roman money for traditional Israelite money. Some scholars think Jesus was moving against the alliance between merchants and the ruling class of priests that enriched them both even as the poor and working classes poured their money into sacrifices.
Of course, this can make saving for a house, investing, planning for retirement feel overwhelming, or like it conflicts with our core values.
Wait a minute…
I got to wondering if maybe there’s more to Jesus’ message than we’re seeing. So I checked out Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19)
Oh, oh, forget the retirement fund. Then there’s this:
“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.”
But then in the very next breath Jesus says:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
A little further on he adds:
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Okay, I haven’t yet looked at everything Jesus had to say about money. But from these snippets, I’m getting his warnings about the power of our fears.
He’s warning us against those fears that would have us prioritize wealth over faith in God. Fears that would have us “store up” and hoard material treasures much greater than we actually need. Fears that would have us worry rather than pay attention to the actual abundance of our planet earth.
At the same time Jesus is interested in our having enough food, enough clothing, enough resources to meet our needs. Asking, wanting, and searching is cool. We can count on God and a good earth to help us provide for ourselves and our families. Faith and money don’t have to be at odds with each other if we remember which comes first.