Reading: Luke 16.9-15
Jesus said to the disciples, ‘I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.
‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest 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.’
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.’
Throughout these days of national pandemic there has been much talk of wealth. The government, recognizing the difficulties that lay ahead, set aside their fiscal plans and sought to anticipate the relief that might be needed. This is not a political statement, but rather a statement of what governments have done throughout the world. Of course, no single government can be seen as having got it ‘right’. Lockdowns, whether on a national or local level, will cause hardship through the undermining of businesses and the generation of higher levels of unemployment. So … the question is now being raised as to whether there should ever have been a lockdown at all. The scientific and medical advice appears to have been overshadowed by the economic crises that seem to be growing on a daily basis. So … what does all this have to do with today’s reading from Luke’s gospel?
Tucked in this reading is a very well known phrase: You cannot serve God and wealth. Luke tells us that the Pharisees … were lovers of money and that they ridiculed him for his teaching on the nature of true riches. How are we different from those Pharisees? Our televisions have so many programmes that revolve around the acquisition of worldly wealth whether through games of chance or lucky investment; whether through shrewd financial investment or informed speculation; whether through honest or through borderline-dishonest means. So many of the decisions we make on a daily basis centre around financial value, whether it is in terms of actual money or in terms of the value we attach to the time we spend pursuing our own ends. So, I ask again, how are we different from those Pharisees, those lovers of money?
Of course, even faith communities are not exempt from their exaggerated interest in financial wealth. No, it is not true that the Church is rolling in money and does not need our support as it seeks to further God’s mission. But, the money it does have is generally entailed in historic property and other assets and, therefore, has no cash value unless we relegate it to its rightful place. Wealth, whether personal, national or ecclesiastical should be devoted to the furthering of God’s mission, it should not be hidden and hoarded in a way that leads us to be dishonest, not only with each other, but with God himself.
You cannot serve God and wealth. As we continue to travel through these uncertain times, let us make that our motto. Let us make that the doctrine that drives us further along the path God has laid for us all.