A Camel through the eye of a needle

“A Camel through the eye of a needle”

“Money makes the world go around, the world go around, the world go around, money makes the world go around, of that we can be sure…of being poor!”

Lines from the musical Cabaret, currently about to enjoy an expensive revival starring Eddie Redmayne, in London’s West End. You certainly need money to see it. The tickets start at £100 and rise to £250. We saw the Rich list published this week. Those mega wealthy people who legally avoid Tax by investing countless Billions of personal wealth offshore, away from the grasp of governments across the world who would use it to invest in their people. At the other end of the “Money” spectrum, we saw Universal Credit cut for the neediest in our society. We can expect our fuel bills to rise in the largest wholesale Gas price hike, ever experienced in the history of energy markets. We clammer for green energy but we have never given a thought to the fact that to save our planet from devastation, we will all have to pay much more money for the energy we use and the things we have enjoyed for most of our lives, and mistakenly believe we have a right to. People need to be paid more money to persuade them to butcher our pigs and drive our delivery tankers.

The church of England’s future is far from certain, as paid clergy posts are cut left right and centre, because there is no money. We closed an entire economy to save the NHS, and now there isn’t enough money being generated to pay our doctors and nurses properly. Post Covid, our country is hundreds of Billions of pounds in debt, the repayment of which is the responsibility of the younger generation and then, the generation not yet born, so long will it continue.

Money makes the world go around and if the there is none, the world stops, and human beings die. We will cry with Job, “God has made my heart faint, the Almighty has terrified me” And Jesus speaks. “Give up all that you have and give it to the poor, that’s what you must do to enter the kingdom of heaven” It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus knew as God knows, Money is the most serious and critical component to human living or human annihilation, and we must be absolutely at the top of our game when we make decisions about how we use Money. Christians are not good at it. There is a kind of Christian neurosis which suggests that to have is bad and to have not, is good. Christians tend to seek “holiness”, but often, holiness is mistakenly
associated with poverty. It is a rather romantic kind of poverty which bears little resemblance to the real thing. Anyone who has experienced real poverty will tell you that it is far from holy. Dirt, disease, and God wills for us.

Many Christians give up their whole lives to serve the poorest of the poor. Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Francis of Assisi to name but two. These examples are good for us, they pull us up short and encourage us to take stock occasionally, but I question that they are role models. Most Saints live extraordinary lives; but what about those of us who don’t? We can’t withdraw from the realities of human living, from our
familial and societal responsibilities? What are we to do when we must stay in the world? Well, consider this, If the world is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then there must be something of the world which is Holy. The very matter and material of which we are made must contain the possibility of holiness. Therefore, those of us who are involved in a worldly existence, for whom the stuff of matter and materialism are
things with which we live daily, must be able to attain holiness in and through the stuff which both makes us human, and we create as humans. Surely the wrong kind of Holy poverty will only make us miserable at a personal level, and globally, return communities and nations to a dark age of real poverty, disease, infant mortality, primitivism, and annihilating chaos.

Money makes the world go around…. I’m convinced that money and soul are united on a deep level. Jesus saw in the rich young man, a person who had not been able to integrate wealth and holiness. Jesus says this is an impossible place to be to achieve real holiness and be a part of God’s Kingdom experiment. A misunderstanding of what Jesus says has led to centuries of the splitting and separation of money and holiness, and yet each borrows the others vocabulary. Notice how much religion uses the language of commerce, such as gaining heaven, acquiring merit, doing penance, earning salvation, losing one’s soul, and deserving hell. Of course, there is also the notion of “penal substitutionary atonement” itself, with Jesus “paying the debt” for our sins. On the other side, commerce uses the metaphors of religion far more than it realizes: we purchase bonds and trusts, enter covenants, forgive debts, are granted grace periods for repayment, enjoy indemnity, reconcile accounts, and redeem coupons! From my perspective, when money and soul are separated, religion is the major loser. Without a vision of wholeness that puts money in its soulful place, religion sells out to meaningless piety.

If we don’t integrate wealth and soul, we end up with a religion that only knows how to count, weigh, measure, dole out, judge, label, earn, expel, and compete. No wonder Jesus’ saw in the young wealthy man, a person who separated his life. His faith is so separate and not integrated at all, his money stops his faith from developing, dealing with his faith mirrors his dealings with wealth, it is transactional instead of transformational, calculating instead of consoling. It does not reflect the great generosity of God toward him. Remember, Jesus was a Jew. There is nothing in Jewish tradition, which sees poverty as holy. It is much the same is Islam which again makes no apology for the acquisition and use of material possessions. Let’s be honest. How many of us would pray to be made poor? What do the poor nations want to be? The answer is quiet simply ‘Rich’, which is why they are slow to cut their coal burning power stations. When dealing with our day to day lives, it is of the utmost importance that we affirm our human nature. “We do not have a High Priest who is not like us, but one who has lived as we do” Hebrews today. Instead of trying to stamp it down, Judaism takes human nature seriously. The more wealth we have the more we are expected to give away. Wealth is potentially a good thing. But if you have it, you have a responsibility to use it. Most of the rigorous codes of conduct contained in the Old Testament are not about sex (as many Christians would have you believe) but about money and the failure of the rich to respond in generosity to the needs of the poor. ‘Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required’ (‘Luke Chap. 12. v48.)

Look at Income Tax. That which we are asked to contribute for the smooth running of our nation. Billions is evaded every year. Mainly by the wealthy who shout at the poor for complaining when their benefits are cut! Money is a good thing. It can be the enabler of creativity and growth. It can make lives healthier and more stable. Ask a hospital in Syria or Yemen or West Suffolk what it wants, and you will find that only money can buy it. We have a responsibility to use our money for the mutual support of all people. The problem with money is our capacity to misuse it. Money is only there to give away. If we bury it in the ground as the parable says, the master will come and repudiate us. Why? Perhaps because we are just not creative enough to make the kingdom of God a reality. Money is a real thing, and our holiness lies in how we use it. We are called to use it in the service of the Gospel. At this point in our history particularly, we must be massively aware of how crucial our use and understanding of money and its workings are, to health, wellbeing, the achievement of Justice and perhaps even the survival of our planet. We will have to pay more for everything in the future. We will have to pay more for our NHS and social care and petrol and meat and bread and clothing. We will probably have to learn to live with less, not forever scrabbling for more, or feeling that we are being robbed when we are reminded that some of the rights we think we have, are in fact privileges, which if not paid for, will be taken away.

But be hopeful, “No one who has used their wealth and resources wisely, kindly, generously, who has avoided selfish gain in favour of the good of all, will not be rewarded” “Money makes the world go around, that clinking clanging sound” is not a dirty word when God is doing the spinning. We should trust him to guide us well.