Friday, September 25, 2015

Desacralizing Money by Using It to Support Christ’s Alternative Society (Acts 2, 4)

 44 All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. 45 They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed (Acts 2:44-45, Good News Translation, here and following).

32 The group of believers was one in mind and heart. None of them said that any of their belongings were their own, but they all shared with one another everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God poured rich blessings on them all.34 There was no one in the group who was in need. Those who owned fields or houses would sell them, bring the money received from the sale, 35 and turn it over to the apostles; and the money was distributed according to the needs of the people (Acts 4:32-35).

In his parable about a rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus warns us against every kind of greed; because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be” (v. 15). Our Olympian personality demonstrates its devotion to Pluto, god of money, when we hoard our wealth. My precious! We witness to Bacchus, god of consumption, when, like that same rich fool, we squander our wealth on sensate pleasures (v. 19).

Jesus doesn’t want us thinking primarily about how to make or save money. Nor does he want us dreaming primarily about how to squander it on self-indulgence. Instead, he daily shares his light, love, and life with us. He then invites us to think and imagine with him how to share these with others—especially with the other participants in our church (Luke 12:31).

In his conversation with a rich ruler (Luke 18:18-25), Jesus reveals to us how our possessions come to possess us. The more we have, the stronger our Olympian devotion to Pluto grows. The stronger that grows, the weaker our Christian personality becomes.

In today’s readings from the book of Acts (2:44-45, 4:32-35), we learn what happens when our Christian personalities are stronger than our Olympian ones. We learn what happens when the Holy Spirit is more active in our churches than the Unholy Spirit of Pluto and Bacchus.

Through our Olympian society and culture, Pluto teaches us that money is more important than relationships. In Pluto’s eyes, relationships are based on usefulness. If our relationships with others help us to make money, great! If they start to cost us money, forget it.

Pluto also teaches us that the money we earn is ours to do with as we please. He prefers that we save it. If we do spend it, he prefers that we spend it on products, like gold or rare paintings, that will appreciate in value over time. That way we may sell them in the future for more money than we spent to buy them.

Bacchus also teaches us that if we have money, then it is ours to do with as we please. We please him most, however, when we squander our money on self-indulgence.

Through the witness of Luke and Acts, we learn that Jesus doesn’t think that way at all. Jesus doesn’t have us hoarding money or squandering it in self-centered ways. He doesn’t have us preoccupied with it either way. He certainly doesn’t think of coins or possessions as neutral objects but as means by which Pluto and Bacchus worm their ways into our Olympian hearts.

Jesus has us thinking and imagining ways we may increase the vitality of our congregation. This includes the vitality of each individual member as well as the vitality of the congregation as an organized social group. Each day Jesus invites us to think and imagine ways that we may increase the vitality of our witness to him whether separately as individual Christians or together as church.

Which ways are best cannot be defined by a moral code and reduced to conformity to it. We cannot demand of rich members of a church that they donate all money in excess of, say, $100,000 to the church for the benefit of other members in need.

We may expect, however, that the Holy Spirit, burning brightly in their Christian hearts, will free them from the need to hoard or squander that money or regard themselves as superior to others because of it. We may be confident that Jesus will speak to them of many surprising and creative ways that they may use it to strengthen the vitality of his church.

At the same time, we must alter our understanding of church. Right now it means one organized social group amongst many in our society. As such, it usually has a large building and a paid staff that organizes volunteers to provide programs of interest to its members. Members generally participate in the core program of Sunday worship. Sometimes they join weekly Bible studies. Occasionally they volunteer to staff programs. Members donate money to pay for buildings, staff, and programs.

This is not how Jesus sees church. American society and culture, like all other societies and cultures of the world, is Olympian. Jesus understands his church as an alternative society and culture. He intends it to be the clearest witness to the Kingdom of Heaven—his alternative society and culture—here on Earth.

So the church is not one organized social group amongst many in which we participate in the context of American society and culture. It is the alternative society and culture of freedom, truth, love, and vitality which we provisionally represent as we interact with others in their chaotic contexts. The church which Jesus asks us to support with the means we have is that alternative society rather than the organized social groups, churches or otherwise, that have made themselves so much at home in our Olympian society.

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.