40. YOU CAN NOT SERVE BOTH GOD AND MONEY. You not only shall not steal

Created: Tuesday, 18 February 2014 Last Updated: Monday, 31 March 2014

You not only shall not steal

1. The Gospel is good news for the poor (Lk 4,18), one of the signals hoped for (Mt 11, 5). At the same time, the Gospel is bad news for the rich: “But alas for you who have wealth, for you have been comforted now.” (Lk 6,24). It is in line with the prophets. The prophets denounce the attempts against the neighbour, inspired in the ambition for money. The greed drives to different ways of stealing: it takes a dealer to cheat the weighing scales, to speculate and to make money from everything (Am 8, 5 – 6); to the rich to make extortions and to accumulate properties (Am 5, 12; Is 5, 8), to exploit the poor (Ne 5, 1 – 5; Am 2, 6), even denying the deserved salary (Jr 22, 13); to the chief and the judge to demand briberies (Is 33, 15; Mi 3, 11), to violate the right (Is 1, 23; Mi 7, 3).
2. The Gospel assumes the Decalogue, but it goes further: you not only will not steal (Dt 5,19) nor will covet the goods of your neighbour (5,21), but you will share your goods. Private property is not an unconditional and absolute right for anybody. We can see it in the crafty steward’s parable, also named of the unjust money (Lk 16, 1-15). When listening the parable, it probably arises questions: Is it just the cleverness of the steward that makes favours with money that is not his? What does that of making friends with the unjust money mean? Perhaps I have some money that is unjust? The parable presents two key figures: the master and the steward. To the master reaches the denunciation of a bad management: The steward wasted his goods. How do I place myself before the money: like master or like steward?
3. In the parable, the denunciation has its basis and dismissal is unavoidable. The steward considers the situation: What am I to do now that my master dismisses me?. So he started to diminish the debts to his master’s debtors. You owe one hundred jars of oil? Write fifty. You owe one hundred bushels of wheat? Write eighty. This done, the master commended the dishonest steward for his cleverness. It is clear, the master is generous and, besides, he praises the steward, who even made a good transaction (see 1 Tim 6,6; 1Co 3,19) Many times, “the children of this world are more clever with those of their generation than the children of the light”.
4. World’s judgment and Gospel’s judgment are here confronted. If, before what – according to the world’s logic – is mine, I place myself like master, then when I give something, I give of what is mine. But, if I place myself like administrator, when I give something, I give what is not mine. So says the Lord: “Use filthy money to make friends for yourselves, so that when it fails, these people may welcome you into the eternal homes. It is similar to that other passage that says: Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, and make safe investments with God” (Lk 12,33). It is an invitation to share the goods. There is no need to hold back this central aspect of the parable. We must give, in good management, what overflows our own need (see 1 Tim 6,8).
5. The parable concludes with this reflection: “Whoever can be trusted in little things can also be trusted in great ones; whoever is dishonest in slight matters will also be dishonest in greater ones. So if you have not been trusted worthy in handling filthy money, who could entrust you with true wealth? And if you have not been trustworthy with things that are not really yours, who will give you the wealth which is your own?” At the end, a bottom option is suggested: “You cannot serve yourself both to God and money. Money is a false and unjust god, an implacable master: it chokes the Word (Mt 13,22), it forces to forget God’s sovereignty (Lk 12, 15,21), it prevents the Gospel’s way to the best prepared hearts (Mt 19, 21- 22). The Gospel invites us to give clear signals that our god is not the money (see Mt 6, 24). An opposed attitude (also today) is given, that of the Pharisees, money’s friends: hearing these things, they mock Jesus.
6. When the rich youngster disregards the call because he had many goods, Jesus comments to his disciples: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were shocked at these words, but Jesus insisted: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” They were more astonished than ever and wondered, “Who, then, can be saved?” Jesus looked steadily at them and said, “For humans it is impossible, but not for God; all things are possible with God.” (Mk 10, 23 – 27)
7. Jesus does not demand, like in Qumran monastery, the delivery of property to the community. It imposes to everybody the renounce neither to goods nor their collectivisation. There are some people that give everything (Mk 10,28) and receive much more (10,30), Zaccheus revise his situation and he gives half of them (Lk 19,8), other one helps with loans (6,34 –35), there are women who follow Jesus and support Him with their own funds (Lk 8,3), and other one makes with Him an, apparently useless, waste  (Mk 14,3 – 9). Nothing is here legally ruled. That is why it needs neither exceptions nor law privileges.
8. -      In the first Christian community no one claimed any of their possessions like his own (Acts 4,32). The first Christians “lived together and shared all their belongings; they would sell their property and all they had and they distribute the proceeds to others according to their needs” (Acts 2, 44 – 45). Human relationship, falsified and reduced to master and slave relationship because of the possession substance, is converted, through the sharing, into fraternity relationship. Hearts communion shows up like an effective possessions sharing.
9. -      Paul’s communities do not present signs as spectacular as those of the first Christian community, the Jerusalem community. But, same spirit is present: there will be no needy person between you (2 Co 8,14; Acts 4,34). With this spirit he organizes a collection for the brothers in Jerusalem, who are in a bad situation. The collection must follow these principles: let each one give what he decided upon personally and not reluctantly as if obliged (2 Co 9,7; see 1 Tim 6,18). Paul calls attention upon some abuses that take place in the Thessalonica community: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thes 3,10).
10. -    An old text takes us to the origins of the Christian conscience, an immediate echo of Jesus´ words: “You will communicate with your neighbour in everything and you will not say that something is of your property; because if you share what is incorruptible, will not be even more reasonable in the incorruptible matters?” This text is found in Bernabe´s letter (19,8). Probably written in Alexandria in the first half of the second century; it is also found in the Didache (4, 8), a catechetical teaching probably written in Syria in the same years. It is, of course, important to share, but also to discern: “Let your charity sweat in your hands until you know to whom you are giving” (Didache 1,6).
11. The bishops of the century IV denounce the attitude of the rich people with respect to the poor. Their denouncement sounds revolutionary, but, really, it is not: it moves inside a system that is not able of breaking. For centuries, the social message of the Gospel stayed in the shadow until reaching total negation. In a so unfortunate situation emerges the Church’s social doctrine, with the Encyclic Rerum Novarum of Lion XIII (1891). But it is a reaction of a philosophical and ethical type, more than a return to the Gospel. Capitalist system critics is little by little intensified, private property value is played down, workers rights priority is stressed, the bloody –mindedness before the socialism is attenuated (little)

12. The Church’s social doctrine, even in its more advanced expressions, is unreal before the capitalist world. The Gospel’s social message positions itself in favour of the poor, but the “large Christian Churches are unable to assume it vitally, because they are structurally rich and powerful and they are compromised with the interests of the rich, which, in effect, are  (in a more or less adequate way, but certainly meaningful) their own interests” (Diez Alegría).
* Dialogue: Is the Gospel good news for the poor? How do we live it?