This Sunday’s lectionary readings relate to a key issue in the headlines – the Christian attitude to wealth and economics. Centre Director Angus Ritchie reflects on their message for our churches today:
In both the Common Worship and Roman Catholic lectionaries, this Sunday’s Gospel reading is Luke 12.13-21, with verses from Ecclesiastes 1 and 2 offered as the ‘related’ Old Testament passage and Colossians 3.1-11 (or 3.1-5,9-11) as the Epistle.
Our attitudes to wealth and possessions lie at the heart of all three readings. They are likely to be on many of our congregations’ minds – some because of the financial pressures they are living with each day, other because the Church’s teaching on these issues is so much in the headlines – with Archbishop Justin’s attack on exploitative lending contribution, Archbishop Sentamu’s decision to chair a Living Wage Commission and Pope Francis’ emphasis on the needs of the poorest in society. While many commentators have welcomed these interventions, The Independent has demanded that Church leaders stick to ‘spiritual concerns’ and stay out of these political debates.
What light do our readings cast on these issues?
1. We do not find our ultimate security in money: This is an important thing to remember at a time of economic crisis, for it is possible for us to harbour the illusion that a recovery will provide our ‘salvation’. It is worth remembering the agonised debate Britain was having before the credit crunch – about our inability to turn wealth into well-being in an increasingly unequal, consumerist society.
2. Wealth is a gift from God, but can become an idol: The Epistle to the Colossians states that greed is “the same thing as worshipping a false God.” It is idolatry, the placing of a gift in the place of the Giver.
3. Spirituality has implications for the material world: ‘Letting your thoughts be on heavenly things’ transforms our behaviour here on earth. The Epistle to the Colossians echoes the focus of the Law and the Prophets on the way we use our bodies – either to embody the values and the love of God’s Kingdom or to pursue our own pleasure at the expense of others. This applies as much to our behaviour in the boardroom as in the bedroom.
For Christians, spirituality is not about turning our backs on the material world, or retreating into a purely private sphere. On a Biblical understanding, spirituality is embodied and it is communal. It is about growing in communion with God and neighbour, and seeing the world around us as a gift which enables us to grow in that communion – so that the material world is something to be shared and delighted in, not hoarded and defended. This, of course, is something we not only see in Sunday’s reading, but which we celebrate at every Eucharist, where the good things of creation enable us to experience and grow in ‘holy communion’ with God and with our neighbours.
Further resources from the Contextual Theology Centre:
– Luke Bretherton’s essay on Scripture, usury and the call to responsible lending shows how central the issue of lending and borrowing is to the Biblical narrative. The essay first appeared in our 2010 book Crunch Time: A call to action.
– CTC and the Church Urban Fund have produced a course to help churches reflect and act on these issues – and also a guide to holding a ‘Money Talk’ – engaging local people with the issues raised by the continuing economic crisis, and asking what action they might take with and through the church.
– The Centre is also working with Citizens UK on the Just Money campaign against exploitative lending.
– This summer, CTC and The Children’s Society published The Heart of the Kingdom – a collection of essays on theology and child poverty, which includes a case study of a local church responding to issues of household debt, low pay and rising rent.
Here are some of this week’s blogs on the issues:
– Nick Baines, Religion and politics (on Nick Baines’s blog) – responding to the Independent editorial on Justin Welby
– Luke Bretherton, We are all Wonga now: Joining Welby’s war on usury (on ABC Religion & Ethics blog)
– Angus Ritchie, ‘Both-and’ Christianity (on Theos blog) – social action and the wider mission of the Church
– William Taylor, The church must be an activist: fight for the poor and expose the corrupt (on Guardian Comment is Free) – including more on the ‘Just Money’ campaign