Thursday, April 4, 2013

Money and the Passion

It would not be an accurate assessment of the role of money to deem it simply evil.  The proper ownership of property is something attested to by Scripture.  There are times when this is dramatic and emotional.  Once, Jesus instructed Peter to catch a fish and take from its mouth two coins.  With this, Peter would be able to pay the temple tax, something that every male in Judea was responsible to do:

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were overwhelmed with grief. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt. But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.” (Mat 17:22-27)

This may seem like merely an odd story, but look at it from a different vantage point.  Peter had, according to his own admission, given up all that he had.  His little fishing business was a respectable enterprise and one that proved the joyful struggle of his ownership of a small business.  To take away from this was not a relief.  He has provided for his family, though there is little said in the New Testament concerning this.

The little passage above reminds us that the honorable payment of a debt was something of concern to Peter. The fact that Jesus pays the debt through this miraculous event should be seen as containing the affection of Jesus for Peter.  Some have seen this as exempting some from the obligation of work, but that is something of a stretch.  Jesus could have easily said that work is a necessary evil, but even that makes little sense.  The fact that Jesus’ contemporaries knew him as a carpenter’s son gave a higher honor to work.

There is, of course, a problem.  Stretching back to the origin in the Garden of Eden, man has struggled with the sin of avarice -- the greed that springs from an extremely disordered desire for money.  We can easily see Adam’s sin as being a desire for power over his circumstances.  And then, in another Garden, we see another contest for the heart of Man.  As Jesus prayed, his disciples slept, not knowing that while they took their ease, a battle raged for the soul of Judas.
Thirty pieces of silver was all it took to send the innocent Savior to the gallows.  Was it worth thirty coins -- about four months of a skilled laborers’ wages?  My father used to tell me that the worse thing about money is that it burns a hole in your pocket and then it’s gone, with nothing to show for ever having had it.

Of course there is a sadness about Judas.  The story in the Bible presents him rather matter-of-factly.  He returns the money that he has already lost, before he brings it back.  For in the perpetual darkness of his soul, these coins found a familiar home.  No matter how we try to follow the twists and turns of a sin-sick soul, we end up in the same evil place.

So is everything lost?  Of course not!  The choices are so numerous that we cannot count them.  It is like wading across a swift river.  If you know the familiar placement of the rocks, you can accomplish getting to the other side.  Among everything that can be done to bring a sinner home, the most important is “right desire.”  It is the wanting to.  Remember the prodigal son?  It was at the point of remembering home that he turned around and began the slow and gradual ascent to the Father who awaited him with open arms.

We stand on the edge of the scene watching the son.  He stops from time to time and squints his eyes to see if he can see the Father.  He sits seemingly exhausted, and then he stands up, looks in our direction and hears the urging to return home to the Father’s house: “Throw the coins away.  Give them to the poor, and follow … me.”

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