‘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 of God and money.”
The Gospel according to Luke is uncompromising in its defence of the poor and denunciation of uncaring wealth. Jesus did not condemn wealth in itself. What he condemned was the all too frequent consequences of unthinking wealth.
Wealth has the power to distort fundamental human values. It has the power to render us insensitive to the poverty that is so frequently its price. We like to think that wealth is simply an inanimate possession. Jesus insisted that wealth has the power to possess us, to become our master and overriding preoccupation.
The prophet Amos, writing in the eighth century before Christ, condemned the excesses of wealth. His analysis would apply equally to our own global society, such is the power of wealth to distort and destroy.
Amos spoke of the wealthy “trampling the needy and suppressing the poor”. The complexity of modern society frequently insulates us from the true cost of wealth. Amos condemned the avarice that saw religious observance as a distraction from the pursuit of wealth. He condemned the greed that swindled the poor of a fair price for their produce and services.
In our preoccupation for the lowest possible price and a higher standard of living, we can at times become the unwitting collaborators in such exploitative practices. The lives that we live are supported by armies of workers and service providers. Many, often on zero-hours contracts, work for wages that we would find impossible. Amos condemned the greed that was so unthinking of the human cost of excessive wealth: “Never will I forget a single thing you have done.”
Throughout the Scriptures the greatest duty of wealth is the care of the poor. To ignore this is to surrender ourselves and our values to the mastery of wealth. Thus Jesus insisted: “Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends.”
This saying came as the conclusion to the bewildering account of the dishonest steward. Fearing that his crime had been detected, he used his master’s wealth to secure friends for the future. There is a certain irony in the tale. For the first time this dishonest man was using wealth for the benefit of others. There is surely the hope that self-interested generosity might beget selfless generosity.
This article first appeared in the September 16 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.