by Rev. Anna Golladay
Many wonder why is it so hard for us in the church to talk about money?
Scholar and preeminent Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has an intriguing perspective. He surmises that we have an ambivalence about money because as Christians, we know that it is a zone of obedience for us. If we are called to obedience via the Gospel and the direction and teaching of Jesus, then we are also called to obey the Gospel with our money. Is it possible that because money is so valued by the world, we would like to withhold that money from our zone of obedience? And we don’t want to talk about it, because that ambivalence, being in and out of obedience about it, allows us to stop paying attention to the fact that we’re not being straight about it.
Are we ambivalent or embarrassed about money because we know that we are entitled to some it for ourselves, but we also know that our neighbor is entitled to more of it than most of us are ready to acknowledge? But if we can start thinking about money, and our ambivalence towards it, can we start to shine a light on it those feelings and do more about it?
Brueggemann also believes, as do I, that the Holy Spirit does its best work in the midst of our ambivalence. Think about this: if we stay unsettled and open, we might find ourselves in a place where we had not thought to go – specifically because of that ambivalence. Therefore, saying, or at least mentally acknowledging that we feel ambivalent about it is kind of an act of discipleship.
Think about our sacraments. We partake in the sacraments of holy communion together and some of our traditions explain that when we break the bread and drink of the cup, we are engaged in an intimate giving and receiving as if directly from God. This act is a representation of the ways in which Jesus has given himself – a reminder of the grace and love that is bestowed upon us because of that gift.
Why would we not, then, also see money as sacramental?
It’s hard though to think of myself as a receiver. I’m a doer. I’m a creator. I’m the reason things happen to me. My actions and my ethic are the reason I get a paycheck. What would happen if we did a better job at talking about money as a sacrament?
Why do you think Jesus talked so much about money and possessions? I think because he understood it’s of the most intimate places where life and death issues are to be faced. I think he understood that if we can decide faithfully about that, we can decide faithfully about everything. Jesus was preoccupied with the threat of the Roman Empire. And empires, be they Roman or Western, are fueled by capitalism – the controlling of markets and resources and funding the central bank. It’s all about money. It isn’t surprising then that Jesus was inviting people to imagine their lives outside of the imperial rat race.
I think the Church is haunted by that alternative possibility. Our reality is socially constructed, and therefore, who we’re with makes an enormous amount of difference. And if we are in the Communion of Saints, then all the Saints are on the road; all the Saints are making the journey and they are our travelling companions. If we are a collection of broken people, people who are willing to show one another our cracks, our scars and the ghosts in our closet, then we are people along this road together. When we do this together, this life of community, this life of emulating Jesus, we allow the Holy Spirit to move and work through us. That’s what gives all this meaning. That’s what informs the work we do. That’s what walking the road together looks like.
Brueggemann reminds us “the profane is the opposite of the sacramental. ‘Profane’ means flat, empty, one-dimensional, exhausted. The market ideology wants us to believe that the world is profane – life consists of buying and selling, weighing, measuring and trading, and then finally sinking down into death and nothingness.
But Jesus presents and entirely different kind of economy, one infused with the mystery of abundance and a cruciform kind of generosity.
Jesus transforms the economy by blessing it and breaking it beyond self-interest. When people forget that Jesus is the bread of the world, they start eating junk food – the food of the Pharisees and of Herod, the bread of moralism and of power. Too often the church forgets the true bread and is tempted by junk food. Our faith is not just about spiritual matters; it is about the transformation of the world. The closer we stay to Jesus, the more we will bring a new economy of abundance to the world.”
Source: The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity. Walter Brueggemann. 1999. Link