By: Kevin Considine

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 10:10pm

Money belongs to God

Column: God said what?
Your money does not belong to you. It belongs to God.

That is probably difficult for most of us to swallow. And I am as guilty of anyone else of ignoring this. But it’s the truth. Especially if we are trying to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

After all, Jesus is the one who admonished “No servant can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16:13) and “woe to you who are rich!” (Lk 6:24). He is the same one who told the rich young man to sell all of his belongings, give them to the poor, and come follow him. (Mt 19: 16-30). And he is the teacher who describes a God who pays his workers in a way that seems unjust to our economic standards (Mt 20: 1-16).

We rightly believe that God will provide for us and that God seeks our prosperity and well-being. But that doesn’t mean that what we earn is ours. It belongs to God alone. This is alluded to throughout the Scriptures, an example of which is found in the Levitical codes when God states, “…for the land is mine, and you are but aliens who have become my tenants” (Lv 25:23) and in many of Jesus’ parables. Not to mention the practices of the earliest church who shared everything in common (Acts 4:32-37).

Of course we have worked for what we have. But, in truth, God has given it to us. We are indebted to God. We earned nothing on our own. In a limited sense, we have earned it and it is ours. Yet that misses the point. It is God’s. And unless we give it back to God to use as God pleases, at best it is nothing and at worst it is sinful. We can choose God or mammon. But never both. Deciding to serve God means submitting to God in stewarding our resources. That is the cost of discipleship.

In the U.S., our value as human beings is very much determined by our social status and material possessions. Our affluent culture does not value a person just for being God’s son or daughter. We are valued only to the extent that we can be a means for producing goods, services, and money. That’s it.

This is why we believe that we have earned everything in our lives. And why we believe that we have been given no handouts. Because we have not been taught that our value and worth lies with our Creator. And that we are the apples of God’s eye. So we still cling to a false sense self-sufficiency. We don’t believe that God can value us for no other reason than that He created us. And we are wrong.

As Christians, we believe that our God is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all existence. God is a Trinity who draws us into the beauty, goodness, and truth of the divine life. This is the God revealed in and by Jesus. This God is involved in the affairs of human history, especially on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and those who suffer. God is the One who gives and takes away. God is the One to whom we offer all of our possessions and even our lives. It is then God’s decision whether or not we receive them back.

Now money and wealth are not bad things. In order for one to have dignity, one needs work and compensation for that work. A person needs a certain amount of wealth in order to provide not only for his own well-being but also for that of his family and community. That’s why two of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching are Economic Justice and Stewardship of God’s Creation. Our resources can be grace-filled gifts that are to be used to further God’s kingdom. They can give live to ourselves and others. But that also means we are called to strike a balance between being providers for a decent standard of living and being consumers who have an unending appetite for money and power.

The problem here is not money per se. The problem is how we use our money. And where we place our source of ultimate value and meaning. Oftentimes, we use our resources as if they belong to us. We live above what is a basic level of comfort in order to assure that we are valuable in the eyes of our peers. Which means we turn our backs to the God of Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega of existence. We happily choose sin over virtue, death over life. And to see the consequences one need only read the newspapers about the global and local disparities between rich and poor and its effects on the lives of real people.

Our money and resources belong to God and God alone. And these resources are created in order to glorify God and bring about full human flourishing. This is part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And perhaps it’s time that we take that seriously.