The readings are from the catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headlines are meant to keep my thinking real:
CATHOLIC NUNS TEACH HEALTHCARE IN SIERRA LEONE
nuns on shoestring budget maintain education in face of Ebola
PHILIPPIANS 4:10-19 ©
It is a great joy to me, in the Lord, that at last you have shown some concern for me again; though of course you were concerned before, and only lacked an opportunity. I am not talking about shortage of money: I have learnt to manage on whatever I have, I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. All the same, it was good of you to share with me in my hardships. In the early days of the Good News, as you people of Philippi well know, when I left Macedonia, no other church helped me with gifts of money. You were the only ones; and twice since my stay in Thessalonika you have sent me what I needed. It is not your gift that I value; what is valuable to me is the interest that is mounting up in your account. Now for the time being I have everything that I need and more: I am fully provided now that I have received from Epaphroditus the offering that you sent, a sweet fragrance – the sacrifice that God accepts and finds pleasing. In return my God will fulfil all your needs, in Christ Jesus, as lavishly as only God can.
Paul is never just exchanging news with his readers; he always has another motive – in this case teaching the meaning of “koinonia” the Greek word he uses for the “shared life” of believers across great distances. Their lives are shared in the one spirit of God, which unites the communities of believers, in the one multinational assembly which is a witness to the one God revealed in Jesus Messiah. This grand design however is made evident in the practical details of human relationship. In this case, Paul speaks of his own readiness to rely on what he receives from his converts or earns by his leather work. He looks for no more security than that. He also shows his gratititude to the Philippians for giving him continuing financial suppprt in his mission, as they have just done again by the hand of Epaphroditus, who has doubtless journeyed across the Aegean to Ephesus where Paul was under Roman arrest. Such sharing nust have seemed incomprehensible to other Philippians-why on earth provide funds for a travelling philosophy teacher? – but Paul receives it as his due. If we think that he is perhaps not thankful enough, that’s because his whole life has been given over to this kind of sharing.
This kind of sharing which goes beyond family, kinship groups, nationality and race was based on the recognition of one new people under God. Certainly this recognition came from a common belief in Jesus Messiah, but it was not sectarian; it saw all people as potentially one. Our modern, secular recognition of the interdependence of humanity and the need to respond to the need of others, as in the Ebola epidemic, which is the most heartening aspect of contemporary life, has grown out of the Chrstian gospel of the shared life of God’s children. I think a world where Christian Aid resources are often channelled towards Muslim or Hindu people, would suprise Paul but also give him joy.
GospelLuke 16:9-15 ©
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity. The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great; the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great. If then you cannot be trusted with money, that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches? And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you what is your very own?
‘No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and laughed at him. He said to them, ‘You are the very ones who pass yourselves off as virtuous in people’s sight, but God knows your hearts. For what is thought highly of by men is loathsome in the sight of God.’
In yesterday’s blog (1566) I wrote about the parable of the steward about to be sacked for carelessness, who reduces the debts of all his boiss’s creditors so that he’ll have friends when he’s out of work. Surely Luke thought that Jesus’ instructions about using money to win friends was linked to that story. Here Jesus means that the money we possess, although part of an unjust system, can be used to “gain friends at court” by giving it to the poor. They may not be able to recompense the donor here but their positive witness may help the donor squeeze into heaven.
Jesus’ words depict money as both tainted and trivial. Disciples should nevertheless use it carefully for the relief of distress, and in this way show that they are ready for the greater riches of God’s goodness. His teaching offers no wriggle room to money lovers. “You cannot be the slave of both God and Money.”
Born in 1942, I grew up in a British society where just taxation and public enterprise had liberated the ecomony from slavery to money, and I shall probably die in one where that slavery is once more taken for granted and vigorously promoted in the mass media by puppets of capitalism whose strings are pulled by people like Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere. The fact that this slavery is hailed by its captives as freedom and democracy is something that the author of 1984 would have understood well.