while offering ‘in principle’ support
for the concept of kingdom of God, find the idea that God might want to direct
the ways that money is used
or disposed of,
Riches are from God, they assert;
our prosperity is proof enough
that we are virtuous and good.
The Lord would not have so blessed us
if it were otherwise.
With wealth comes responsibility;
we understand that,
and we take our obligations seriously.
Assistance must be provided
for widows and orphans;
the scriptures are strong on that point.
But the poor, as a category,
includes a range of people:
wastrels, profligates, intemperates and such,
not all of them deserving of our largesse.
When it comes to generosity,
it’s best to err on caution’s side.
A charitable trust, perhaps;
with appropriate tax benefits.
Surely Jesus was wrong
with his misconceived diatribes
against wealth and possessions.
He was making some heavy-handed points,
and we all understand that in the heat
of vigorous debate, one is prone
to exaggeration and hyperbole.
It’s not that possessions are wrong, per se;
it’s more that in the wrong hands,
(the self-centred and unenlightened),
the preoccupation with money and wealth
can be something of a distraction.
It doesn’t really apply to us;
we know how to deal with it.
I’m sure that if Jesus was here today
he would recognise the sheer necessity
of wise investments,
a solid superannuation plan,
and a dwelling that adequately reflects
the needs of modern living.
You and I would never let such matters
determine our priorities, or intrude
into our spiritual lives, would we?
No, I’m sure that Jesus wasn’t referring to us,
and that he was simply, at times, guilty
of a little overstatement.
A lot of times, actually.
Dwelling in the frantic phoniness
that fills the weeks between the calling
of the election and the voting,
we are confronted by the various
parties’ priorities for building bigger barns.
We shall gather to ourselves
and lock away for the fearful future
those things that make us rich,
that we value above all else.
We shall erect a barn for the borders
that must be desperately protected
from people who voyage in boats; poor, fearful,
and as wretched as the vessels to which they
have entrusted their lives and their hopes.
Wealth shall be gathered into silos and defended
against the ravages of responsibility
that might see it paying for the big clean-up
that everybody knows will have to come. One day.
There shall be a separate, sheltered barn
for leaders afraid of making decisions
that might prove to be unpopular,
lest they no longer enjoy the favour of the people.
This is democracy, and it has its own barn,
galvanized and gleaming in the sun.
There is also a barn, full and overbursting
with responsible economic policies,
that all of our leaders are required
to visit regularly, to establish
their correct credentials, or else
we will not place a number low enough
in the boxes beside their names.
They say that there is a barn, somewhere,
that holds the nation’s store
of compassion, truth and justice.
It is apparently a small barn and there are
no proposals to build a larger one; besides,
its GPS coordinates
are believed to have been mislaid.
The wealthy and powerful ones;
rulers, kings and major shareholders
do a lively trade in information.
They invest some of their ample resources
in finding out stuff, analysing trends and opinion,
and gathering whatever facts can be assembled
from their multiple sources
in order to gain advantage over everyone else.
Knowledge, they say, is power;
who would argue?
In his terrible nativity story, Matthew
presents us with the despotic Herod,
who, sensing a threat to his kingly power
in the unlikely birth of a child,
demands, of his royal advisors,
insight and opinion. It is his hope
that when the appropriate dots
have been successfully joined,
they will indicate a profitable course of action. And just when,
he confidingly enquires of the wise strangers,
feigning concern for the success
of their crazy adventure; did the star first appear?
Having sent the gift-laden travellers to Bethlehem,
in accordance with some long-forgotten oracle,
he awaits their return,
along with the specific details,
(parents, street name and number),
that they will supply.
He must have waited some time;
the successful pilgrims, as the story goes,
were recipients of further information,
and went home by another way.
The ever-pragmatic Herod was unconcerned;
it was a minor inconvenience.
Their answer to his earlier question
had been duly noted by his scribes;
it would be sufficient for his mathematicians
to make the necessary determinations
that would allow his troops to do their job.
The baby’s parents also received advice
that enabled them to choose a path to safety.
Not so blessed were other young children
in Bethlehem. Knowledge, they say, is power;
She was not frightened;
the woman that Jesus spoke of.
He had looked on from a distance
as she dropped her unobtrusive coins,
two in number, small and copper,
into the large temple money box.
Was he able to hear
the soft clunking sounds produced
as they joined the pile of larger coins
in the treasury’s insistent receptacle?
The rich are calculating in their philanthropy,
lest their abundance be significantly diminished.
What does the law expect from me,
and how do I balance it against my other demands;
quite apart from my needs for comfort
and security in my old age?
How will this contribution look to my peers
as they surreptitiously glance
at the number and colour of the coins
as I make my offering?
The rich live with anxiety; their wealth
seldom delivers contentment or peace.
Any generosity that might have fed their hearts
is pressed by fear
to the borders of their being.
The widow in our story was poor, without savings
or pension; the coins, according to Jesus,
were all that she had to live on.
He concludes his story by offering her as an example
in a way that he never did with the rich.
Affirming her freedom and generosity,
he celebrates her courageous choice
to trust in God.