Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box” (Mark 12:41, English Standard Version). Jesus watched carefully to observe the relationship between people and money. Doing the same might enable us, by God’s grace, to discern the particular symptoms of slavery to Pluto from which we suffer. Seeing those symptoms may enable us, by that same grace, to start setting them gently to one side.
1. Attributing undue importance to money
Jesus thinks of money as a very little thing. To Pluto, and to us when we follow him, money is what really matters.
Money, for example, matters much more than words. Talk is said to be cheap. Our sincerity is doubted until we put our money where our mouth is. We end lengthy discussions by asking, “So what’s the bottom line?” Money is real; without it, words are just hot air.
Because money really matters, making a mistake with it is a sin. If we do not get the best possible deal, we are guilty of lacking prudence. If we drive the hardest possible bargain, we do something praiseworthy. If we get taken because we trusted someone who then cheated us, we are guilty of being stupid.
2. Relating to money better than to people
When devoted to Pluto, we think of our relationship with money as more important than our relationships with people. We have destructive arguments about money with our spouses and children. Family-owned businesses collapse into bitterness and hatred. Friendships end.
3. Regarding money as a measure of virtue
We respect people who have lots of money and, conversely, hold poor people in contempt. We treat rich people politely, regarding them as wise and virtuous, and wish they knew us better. We think of poor people as lazy, stupid, selfish parasites and wish they would not bother us. If they do persist, we feel free to either lecture them or call the police.
4. Being embarrassed when money is discussed
We may talk with our children about politics, religion, sex, even death, but make no mention of money. We think people rude to bring it up in conservation.
5. Thinking money problems are the most urgent
We entertain the popular illusion that acquiring money solves our most important problem. Conversely, if something doesn’t address the money problem, if something doesn’t make or save money, then it’s a waste. For example, a college degree that doesn’t lead to a good job is worthless.
For these reasons the Bible does not treat money primarily as a moral problem, as a question of honesty and hard work. Instead the Bible treats money as a spiritual problem, as a question of our relationship with one of the defeated now desperate powers of evil.
Our love of money, aroused by the spiritual power of Pluto, cannot be overcome by our own power. Proper education, even the information in this essay, won’t do it. Only the life-transforming word of Christ is adequate.
(Today’s reflections were guided by Jacques Ellul’s book, Money and Power (trans. LaVonne Neff, Inter-Varsity Press, 1984).
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