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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinOctober 24, 2003 Issue 

Jesus wasn't afraid to talk about money

Stewardship of sharing is about having what we need


By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Quick. Besides the Kingdom of God, what did Jesus talk about most often?

Love? Peace? The poor?

No, money.

"Jesus talked about money all the time. Look closely at the parables of Jesus and count the ones that refer to money," says stewardship expert and author Dan Conway. "If you didn't know better, you'd say that all Jesus cared about was drachmas, denarii, and the coins that belonged to Caesar."

Not everyone agrees on how many parables are in the Gospels - since parables can be defined many ways as stories, pithy quotes, or proverbs - but most Scripture experts agree on roughly 40 recorded parables of Jesus. Of those, nearly half speak directly about money - for example, the pearl of great price, the lost coin, the silver talents.

Of the other parables, many also touch on material wealth: the Prodigal Son squandering his inheritance (Lk 15:11-32), Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16:19-31), or the day laborers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16).

The use of money also occasioned many of Jesus' teachings: the widow's two coins (Mk 12:41-44); Caesar's taxes (Mt 22:15-22); the rich young man (Mt 19:16-24); and Zaccheus the tax collector (Lk 191-10).

Then there are the famous quotes: "Where your treasure is, there also your heart will be" (Mt 6:21); "Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, not food, nor money" (Lk 9:3); and, most famous of all: "You cannot serve both God and Mammon." (Lk 16 and Mt 6:24).

Mammon is a word from the ancient world. In Greek, it was mamOna, meaning wealth or riches, in the personalized sense, even as the riches were taking on a personality their own. Mammon meant wealth idolized and sought after. It was also recognized as something that could debase and dehumanize. Mammon could truly be a god, a false one.

This Sunday, our diocese turns its Stewardship focus to the Stewardship of Sharing - which means sharing wealth. For the next three Sundays, leading to International Catholic Stewardship Day on Nov. 9, our parishes will focus on how Christians use money. As Bp. Banks noted in a letter to parishes , "Jesus, time after time in the Gospel, calls his disciples' attention to the use of money."

The Gospel for Sunday (Mt 10:46-52) is the story of Bartimaeus. "In the Gospel," said Bp. Banks, "the blind man asks Jesus that he may see. Each of us need help to see the use of money the way Jesus sees it."

Money is an important part of life. As Bp. Ken Untener of Saginaw said in the reflections on stewardship now being used in many of our parishes, "Money speaks the hard language of real life."

How do we pay the light bill? The car needs repair. The mortgage is due. Gas prices keep rising. It was the same in Jesus' day. There were taxes, both government and religious. Food had to be bought at the market. People had to have a place to live and clothes to wear.

And people always like those extras - like a fancy dress or a bracelet from the caravan. (Today, it's SUVs and HDTV.)

The late Richard Halverson, a chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in his book, Perspective, wrote, "Jesus Christ said more about money than any other single thing because money is of first importance when it comes to a man's real nature. Money is an exact index to a man's true character."

Did Jesus spend so much time talking about money because having money was wrong?

Since many wealthy people - both in Jesus' time (See Lk 8:3) and today - followed the Lord and did good things with their money, it seems that Jesus had other concerns with money. Concerns about human nature.

Jesus' messages about money seem less to do with "too much" than with "too little." Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is concerned with people having too little of what they really need. That meant health for the sick, welcome for outcasts, food for beggars, and protection for women and children.

But Jesus' concern also included those who had too little of what really matters - the Kingdom, in which everyone has a close relationship with God and with others.

And Jesus saw that money and wealth often cause a poverty of character, a lack of what really mattered. That is why - when the rich young man "went away sad, for he had many possessions"- Jesus said "it will be hard for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of heaven." It's also why he told us to "give to the one who asks of you" (Mt 5:42) and that we would be judged by the measure, the generosity, by which we give (Mt 7:1).

What we do with wealth - whether that be a plenitude of money, power, talent, influence or anything else that comes to us through the grace of God - shows where our heart is.

As the U.S. Bishops warned in their 1992 pastoral letter on stewardship: "In the United States and other nations, a dominant secular culture often contradicts religious convictions ... (and) frequently encourages us to focus on ourselves and our pleasures ... many of us also have been adversely influenced by this secular culture."

This is the very danger Jesus recognized when he told us to store up "treasures in heaven" rather than "treasures on earth" (Mt 6:19-20). If we focus only on our wealth, on getting more and not losing what we have - that wealth can take on a power of its own, just like the false god Mammon.

Instead, as good stewards, Jesus calls us to focus on God - and to put our wealth freely at his disposal. If we do, our hearts will still be with our treasure - but that treasure will be with our true and eternal treasure: God.


(Sources: "Good Steward" columns by Dan Conway; The Little Burgundy Book on stewardship; and "Stewardship A Disciple's Response")

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