XIX Pentecost, Year B
Jb 23:1-9,16-17 or * Am 5:6-7,10-15
Ps 22:1-15 * Ps 90:12-17
Then Job answered: "Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. "If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!
* (Amos 5:6-7)
Seek the LORD and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring
righteousness to the ground!
* (Amos 5:10-15)
They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins– you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it isimpossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
And that’s about the extent of it. You can talk about just about anything you want when it comes to religion but DO NOT talk about my money. It is my money, I earn it, I can earn as much of it as I want or is possible. But did you know that almost 40% of everything Jesus has to say recorded in the Synoptics is about money or utilizes economic metaphors. Why is this? Does he not say that you cannot serve God and mammon?
Jesus relationship with the economic system is of a piece with his entire program to demythologize the Powers. His halakic debates with the Pharisees, his criticism of Herod, his disdain for the Sadducees and the religious system, his exorcisms and healings are all aspects of the overthrow of the Powers. His refusal to use money also constituted an element, a key element, in his mission.
Why do we value colored paper and worthless coins? Why is everything else in turn valued by this colored paper and worthless coin? What is money? Money is a form or medium of exchange. It is a form of substitution. And because it is so clearly so, it is also a sign of the sacrificial system. We exchange ourselves for money. With money we make an exchange called a purchase. Ergo, we exchange our selves for our purchases. We are the things around us. Since we value ourselves so highly, we value our exchanges just as highly, and viola!, our relationships with things around us becomes the focus of our desire. Our mimetically conceived desire is stoked by the geniuses on Madison Ave who know how to get you to want what they have and furthermore to believe that you will be a better, sexier, cleaner, cooler person for it. These desires get embedded in our social consciousness and we turn our mimetically conceived desire into something positive called the ‘American dream.’ The American dream is all about the ability to accumulate capital or mammon. It depends on sacrifice and exchange or substitution. It is thoroughly mimetic. Little wonder we cannot serve God and mammon.
In addition to seeing mammon as an aspect of the ‘bigger mimetic picture’ (as we can when we utilize Walker Wink’s thesis), it is important to note that economists have begun to see their discipline through the lens of mimetic theory. Furthermore there are wonderful congruencies between a Girardian economic approach and that of Jacques Ellul. One of the more cogent Girardian examples is Andre Orlean’s essay. He says, “ [The] tension that runs through the economic agent leads to the emergence of a specific desire, the desire for wealth. Wealth is that principle that Girard calls desire’s ultimate goal, the possession of which would finally allow the subject to accede to self-sufficiency. It is what all things are measured against; it is the very substance of social evaluation. The determination of wealth of wealth is thus the fundamental economic problem. The dominant strategy in political economy consists in deriving the definition of wealth from a law at the basis of exchange: Value. There would thus reside, at the foundation of the social order, a principle of coherence manipulating the agents without their knowing.” Andre Orlean, “Money and Mimetic Speculation” in Paul Dumouchel, ed. Violence and Truth (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988).
Contrast this with the interesting fact that most books on Jesus do not examine his relationship to money. This is especially the case with literature on Jesus and violence. It is as if money is not an essential component of the problem of desire. If money/capital/wealth is dealt with, it is usually in terms of a reflected mimetic desire where the poor have ‘a right to the wealth’ of the rich. This is also usually spun from the liberation theological angle (which in turn depended upon the Christian-Marxist dialogue of the 60’s and 70’s) where too frequently the violence of the poor and disenfranchised is good violence and the powerful violence of the rich is evil. This focuses the debate on the right to the medium of exchange (and the concomitant right to ‘good violence) whereas Jesus gives no right to the medium of exchange.
Postscript: The economic aspect of Jesus’ teaching is ignored at the church’s peril. With Jesus’ teaching in mind we renounce the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ in all of its forms; this is nothing more than middle class consumerism with Bible verses. The ‘prosperity gospel’ is a religious multi-level marketing scheme used in the churches to make the few at the top wealthy at the expense of the masses under them. (Hhhmmm, sorta sounds like capitalism, eh?) Fans of Jacques Ellul may recall what he has said in Money and Power.
Martin Hengel has written the valuable resource Property and Riches in the Early Church (London: SCM, 1974).
Scholars talk about the need for objectivity but we casually wonder how they can objectively treat Jesus’ teachings on money/wealth when they depend on a paycheck? How ‘bout clergy? We have read some serious ‘scholarly’ distortions in which Jesus sounds now like Adam Smith, now like Karl Marx, and others who make Jesus out to be a full blown market capitalist (can’t you just picture Jesus saying ‘greed is good?’ NOT!). The bondage we have to money is a sign of our bondage to the Powers and thus the Satan, the victimage mechanism in its lies and death. You can’t bring that into the Kingdom of God. You have to choose one or the other that’s just the way it is. Whew, Talk about puttin’ the hurt on. No wonder the rich young man was sad, huh?
Let’s see, how long have humans been around? Figure somewhere between 2-3 million years. How long has money/medium of exchange been around? Maybe 10-20,000 years. How do you suppose we did without it for so long? What would it mean for you to be free from the shackles of mammon, desiring what others desire, programmed to the hilt by a consumer culture? We wish to remind you once again of Walter Wink’s trilogy on The Powers. The final volume, Engaging the Powers, is rich in suggestive ways Christians can become actively involved in the world without succumbing to the mimetic snares of the world.
God bless you today as you work this one, don’t get into too much hot water. Oh, and watch out when you turn around, the devil is there waiting, aiming at your …….