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What is the Christian view of wealth? I don’t ask about the “religious view” of wealth because I am not qualified to present the views of other religions. Perhaps I should not even speak of the “Christian view of wealth,” since there is a wide range of opinion across Christian groups. The folks in the prosperity gospel camp, for example, do not see eye to eye with the brothers in a Franciscan monastery.
Perhaps the question to ask is, “How did Jesus and his apostles view wealth?” The New Testament contains a storehouse of relevant data on the subject. According to Howard Dayton, sixteen of Jesus’s thirty-eight parables have something to do with money and possessions. Dayton notes that here are about 500 biblical verses on prayer and another 500 on faith, but over 2,000 on money and possessions.
The view of Jesus and Paul on wealth is nuanced, which makes sense given the large place occupied by wealth in the Bible and in people’s lives. For example, Jesus, unlike advocates of the prosperity gospel, never suggests that wealth is proof of God’s blessing. But then neither does he idealize poverty or recommend it as a path to godliness.
It is true that Jesus once told a wealthy young ruler to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and come follow him. But the wealthy young ruler was the only person to receive such instruction from Jesus. He did not require other wealthy followers – think of Joseph of Arimethea or Nicodemus – to do the same.
Something similar is apparent in St. Paul’s approach to wealth. He is alert to the danger that wealth poses. Having money might lead people – falsely – to think of themselves as better than their neighbors. It might also cause them – disastrously – to transfer their future hopes from God to their wealth.
But, like Jesus, his apostle neither congratulates nor condemns people for having money. He takes a very different – and practical – approach to wealth. He commands the wealthy “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” For Paul, neither the absence of wealth nor its abundance is what matters. What matters is what people do with the money they have.
As such, money is a test, an x-ray of sorts for the soul. Expose people to money, and a picture of what they are like on the inside begins to emerge. Because he understood how this works, Jesus could say: “The one who is faithful with very little is faithful with much, and the one who is unrighteous with very little is unrighteous with much.” Like an x-ray, money reveals what is on the inside.
But that doesn’t mean that money is safe. It is, as Austin Farrer once noted, one “of God’s good (but withal dangerous) gifts to us.” X-rays are wonderful diagnostic tools, but repeated, unprotected exposure to them can lead to serious problems. Repeated, unprotected exposure to wealth can do the same. Hence St. Paul’s instruction to do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous, and willing to share. These are protective measures for those who must deal regularly with money.
The views of money held by prosperity gospelers and by vow-of-poverty-taking friars have one thing in common. Even though one considers money a threat and the other considers it a triumph, they both consider it important. Whichever camp you’re in, money is a big deal.
Jesus, however, did not consider money to be a big deal. He referred to it as “a very little thing” or “the least of things.” This strikes almost everyone, from the impoverished friar to the $10,000-suit-wearing televangelist, as a kind of heresy. Most people, whether they love money or despise it, think it is important. Jesus did not.
This unusual approach to money is only possible for someone who views life in a fundamentally different way than most of us. Jesus was that person. He neither loved money nor was he anxious about it. It did not impress him, yet he knew what it was good for and how to use it well. His student, “when fully trained,” will be like him.
According to this article, “Jesus, however, did not consider money to be a big deal.”
Of course not because Judas was the ‘treasurer’ wasn’t he? His job was to find a way to pay or bargain for food and accommodations for more than a dozen people while traveling about. No wonder he grabbed 30 pieces of silver knowing that his Lord could perform miracles and need not be in serious trouble. 🤗. I’ve always felt bad for him when things didn’t turn out as he expected.
Hi Andrea. Thanks so much for reading. One thing is sure: Judas and all the others were told what they were getting themselves into (see Luke 9:57-62; 14:28-33; Matthew 10:23; et.al.). I think it is commendable to feel bad for Judas. I think Jesus did too.