The haunting line that continues to echo in my mind from teen climate activist Greta Thunberg’s provocative speech to the United Nations is, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
I can’t help but wonder how those thunderous words of woe matter here where we live, work, live lives of faith and of good conscience, recreate, celebrate life and retire.
There’s not much in life that is free from the potent influence of and the bewitching lure that money holds over us; for many, it’s difficult to see our lives outside of the demands and strains of money. Perhaps that’s why Jesus had much to say about money.
Jesus warned, “No one can serve two masters; for a servant 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.” Wealth is illusionary. Money can cast a tenuous mirage of security and false contentment. The wealthy are at risk of misinterpreting their material good fortune as God’s caring provision. Having wealth can be a fantastical mind trip that most in the world will never have the luxury, or curse, of experiencing.
I often wondered if Jesus’ teaching on prayer – “forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors” – was indicative of the abuses of usury and debtors’ prisons prevalent in his day and age.
Money, in many ways, is often used as a leveraged mechanism of oppression over another. Sometimes the line between our work and essential being becomes blurred, where the human becomes a mere worker (cog in the machine) rather than a human that has meaningful work; even worse yet, in our economy, producers of commodities become commodified themselves. Forgiveness is a transformative act of love and liberation, and forgiveness is also a primary affirmation of our priceless worth as a living soul.
Money is also a system. Money has a way of devouring lives on the margins when the driving economic engines of our society are exploited and left unmitigated. Jesus’ mother had a sense of how destructive the system of money can be when she proclaimed: “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Mary’s contemplative reflection about such things influenced and shaped a prophetic Jesus.
Money as a system is also the main driving engine fueling the increasing horror of runaway climate change. Money also can be a stubborn distraction to our spiritual journey of transformation, here and now.
The simple act of consuming and spending less is both an act of natural conservation and a path to a fulfilling spiritual life that is fully present in the here and now; to this end, Jesus said, “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 consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
A young and earnest mind once asked Jesus what the key to the eternal and spiritual life was, and Jesus replied, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” I like to think that this is a lifelong commitment and way of living. Those who know the joy and love of deep generosity have found an enduring and liberating gift.
Life is a spiritual journey embodied in our beloved and frail bodies. We are fashioned and created in the image of a love that longs for the liberation of the oppressed and the healing of the wounded.
Chris Breedlove is pastor of Foothills Congregational Church, 461 Orange Ave., Los Altos. For more information, visit foothills-church.org.