The universal wisdom of the world is that one of the things which every man ought to do in order to secure his life against financial loss is to hoard up money for himself. Once upon a time this was done rather romantically: people would put their gold into chests, and they would bury the chests in secret places in the ground. Eventually, if they felt sufficiently poor, they would go out and dig the chests up. “A strange madness, that,” said St. Basil the Great, “when gold lies hidden with other metals, one ransacks the earth; but after it has seen the light of day, it disappears again beneath the ground. From this, I perceive, it happens to you that in burying your money you bury also your heart. ‘For where your treasure is,’ it is said, ‘there will your heart be also’ (Matt 6:21).”
People today generally don’t bury gold. Money is no longer made of precious metals, but of numbers in computers, so people bury their wealth in banks where they hope that it will remain, waiting to be dug up in a time of need. Christ warns against this practice: “There was once a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, ‘What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?’ So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God” (Luke 12:16-21).
Surely this can’t be right. The man in this parable has acted very sensibly and prudently: he has put away a little nest egg and made preparation for the future. Surely Christ is only saying that this is problematic because the man is self-satisfied. He’s not saying that we shouldn’t provide for the future in case of difficulties that may arise.
On the contrary, the excess goods that I have now are things which someone else needs. If I keep those things because I might need them later, then I am keeping them back from their proper owners.
Christian social teaching is difficult because it involves trusting in an invisible hand, not the invisible hand of the marketplace, but the invisible hand of providence. “Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). If I keep my riches close to me, buried in the ground, invested in the bank, or cleverly concealed behind the wallpaper in my living room, then I know where they are when I need them. If I send my wealth out into the world, for all I know it will never come back. There is nothing certain, nothing guaranteed, just some abstract theological principle.
The abstract theological principle is a promise made by God. The problem that people have with Christ’s hard sayings about money is that Christ seems to be under the impression that God is more trustworthy than the bank. It’s one thing to go to church and talk about believing in Jesus, to take Pascal’s wager and put down a few chips on God to make sure that if the big gamble pays off you’ll be collecting dividends in Heaven. It’s another thing to bet everything you have on the Big Invisible Man in the Sky. You could get burned. You could give and give and give out of the store of your riches and end up poor and unprovided for if it turns out that God doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately, God is not interested in the faith of those who hedge their bets. This is why Christ is so worried about the salvation of the rich: “I tell you solemnly, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:23-24). This saying astonished the disciples, who were poor. It ought to astonish us. Most of us are rich. We’d better wonder why it is that it’s going to be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it will be for us to get into heaven. Fortunately, Christ gives the answer: “For men…this is impossible; for God everything is possible” (Matt 19:26). For a rich person to get into heaven he must have real, concrete faith: he must really believe that God is able to do the impossible.
Giving to those who have been generous is not impossible. It’s not even difficult. People who regularly send gifts and goods out into the world, who make it their primary business to provide for the needs of the poor instead of worrying about their own future needs, do not go unrewarded. They draw to themselves communities: family, friends, church, neighbours. People will come forward to help those who have helped them. They will even come forward to help those who have not helped them personally, but who are known to have helped others. If people, who are evil, are able to do this, then how much more will God provide for those who have cared for His little ones?
Excerpted from Slave of Two Masters
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