St. Mary Nanoose Bay

October 18, 2020

Matthew 22:15-22              

How many of Jesus’ parables refer to money?  About half! Why would Jesus speak about money so often? Because our lack of understanding of what money is and what it can do (for good and for evil) is the case of so much suffering in the world, not only in Jesus’ time but still today in our world. Think about it – so much of the church’s focus on money - on the declining number of people in the pews and the corresponding decline in income?.           

We aren’t going to think our way out of this dilemma rationally or economically. Because the church isn’t a business as many people like to think.            

The church is the body of Christ, a living, breathing, mystical body and until we get clear in our heads what this body needs, and bring those needs to God, we aren’t going to grow or thrive. No amount of money is going to get us through the challenges we face.            

We need to look to Scripture for our direction. Jesus challenges us to look at our attitudes and practices around money because as a resource that ultimately reflects the abundance of God, we need to learn how to trust and to share. We aren’t going to build the future with a budget or financial plan. The future of the church is in God’s hands. Our part is to be faithful and open to being guided. To build up our muscles of trust, faith, generosity and kindness.            

In today’s reading, Jesus speaks plainly. United in their desire to discredit and bring down Jesus, a rabble rouser challenging the status quo, the Herodians representing the Roman occupiers along and the Jewish religious elite try and trap Jesus. They don’t understand that he lives out of a different paradigm; unlike them, he is not about gaining power or status for himself. He threatens them, because he challenges their integrity.

So they try and threaten him - they ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”            

This would be like asking someone, “When did you stop beating your spouse?”

There is no way to answer that does not indict oneself.            

If Jesus answers “yes,” he would be seen to be colluding with the occupying forces. If Jesus says “no,” he would be suspected of having revolutionary sentiments and would be guilty of sedition.            

But as is his way, Jesus answers by focusing on what’s behind their question. He asks someone to bring forth a coin. (Isn’t it interesting that he doesn’t have one on him?!) He’s brought a Roman coin, a denarius - the coin of the occupying realm. This coin had the face of the emperor on it, portrayed as if a God.            

He asks them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” and they answer, “The emperor’s.” So he tells them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.” Fair enough. But then he continues, “… and to God, the things that are God’s,” which puts the challenge firmly in place.            

Let’s think about it. Exactly what is not of God’s? What on earth isn’t made from God’s creation? What can we possibly think of that is truly our own? Why our very being is gift from God!            

Of course we need to agree on ways of living together and so we have created laws (and we were given the 10 Commandments!) but when we forget what, or who, we are organizing for, we lose track of the divine exchange which has everything to do with the giving and receiving and sharing of God’s abundance.             This is why Jesus talks about money so much. Because we think our monetary system is the real system of exchange. It is, in fact, a poor and inequitable system in comparison to the divine one.            

We know we are being challenged to consider our economy for what it is when we’re troubled by the parables Jesus tells. Such as the one where the landlord pays the workers equal pay when they’ve each laboured for vastly different amounts of time. We’re troubled when we hear the story of the servants entrusted by a landowner with his wealth and the one who went out and invested the talents/money was rewarded with much more; and the one who fearfully hid away the money in order to be safe, was given nothing. We’re troubled when Jesus sends his disciples out, saying – “Take nothing with you; depend on the hospitality of strangers.”  It upsets us when Jesus tells us about the farmer who has a bumper crop and sensibly builds more barns to store it away, only to die the next day. It is good and right for us to be troubled and to wrestle with this stories, because the divine economy is so different from what we know and imagine.            

Let’s have a look into this divine economy. The one that operates in such a way that a mirror does. If you were a mirror and I do this (extend my arms out as in a welcome) - What does the mirror reflection show back to you?            

Years ago I had a concrete experience of this other economy.  For about a decade, I had a business called Authentic Communication. I gave talks and workshops on Nonviolent Communication to parents, teachers, couples, volunteers, etc. Most of my business came through word of mouth.

One night I had a call from a woman who had gathered together ten friends who wanted to learn from me.  She asked, “What do you charge?” I replied, “$150.00 for a 2 hour talk.” She gasped, “Our budget is for $30.” Like many others, this woman had no idea what goes into preparing a talk - preparation time, travel time, costs for handouts, and the actual presentation time. Something inspired me to take a leap of faith. “Tell you what,” I said, “I won’t charge your group anything. But would you allow me to ask for a free will offering at the end?” She readily agreed.        

A few weeks later, I drove up to a home in one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Victoria. I gave the group of women gathered my best for two hours, and at the end I said, “This is how I make my living. If you received something you value tonight, would you consider offering me something I would value?” and I passed around the hat. When I got home, I counted the money in the hat - $220.00 – much more than I had asked for in the first place!            

I learned a lesson that night. If I give freely, I receive freely. No tension around money; no distraction from the joy of what I do and the joy people feel in return. When we focus on money, we miss the point.  

But that’s not always the case. Often, because when we focus on money as a static thing, and not an instrument of exchange, we miss out on the gift part, the mutuality piece. We begin to think that what we have is ours. We don’t value what is free. Just look at the world around us. We defile nature because we think we can own it, and want to stockpile wealth.            

So the point I’m making here isn’t to tell you to give away all your money. (Although that might be the most freeing thing. Think of St. Francis!) 

No, the point is to look at where you’re constricted around money. Because Jesus is telling us that God wants us to be free. To not be constricted. To think clearly. To engage in life freely, sharing what we’ve been given because when we do, we enter into a whole new realm of exchange that doesn’t make sense within our earthly economic system.            

Money is one of the main ways we constrict in this culture, and our constriction and fear makes life miserable for others, and for ourselves.                          

Giving freely brings joy. I can only imagine the joy God experiences when we freely share the bounty God has given us.            

In our tiny home, we’ve only put up a couple pieces of art so far. One is in the kitchen and has text wound around it: “There are things you do because they feel right and they make no sense and they make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other, to eat each other’s cooking and say it was good.”            

Money is a resource that is meant to be shared. Not because we are worthy. None of us are worthy. All of us are worthy because we were created by God. And we were created to live in community – to share our gifts and talents and resources. To engage in, and enjoy, the exchange of all our gifts. Money is just one resource. But it is a tricky one. Tied up with power and status.            

We need to get clear about our view and experience of money. So that we can share our money as freely as we do our our time and talents.           

How can we live into this call? “This how they will know us, as Christians, by how we love each other,” and share what God freely gives us.            

And intwined with this money stumbling block is the JOY bit. What is it that gives you joy?

The other art hanging on the wall in our tiny home is a tile that reads: "Joy is in us, not in things.” This might be the hint to sharing what is in you. Think about what gives you joy. Not necessarily what you’re good at, because that changes, and you can always learn new things, but what is it that brings you joy?

Because when you share from your Joy place, you bring Joy to the world. And then the giving and receiving become a free-flowing exchange. This is the divine exchange. And we are called to live in this vibrant, dynamic exchange as Christians. And Jesus is there, right in the middle of the eternal outflowing of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!