This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the Four Gospels* is about Jesus ministering to people who are financially abusive.
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. 9 “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”
The tax collectors in Jesus day were known to have been particularly bad people. They had few true friends because they tried to gather information about people and their wealth so that they could extract as much money for themselves and the Roman government as possible. People would turn in other people to gain an advantage, and they would tax people as much as possible. The collectors were often Jewish and treated their fellowmen harshly; they made their living by charging an extra amount. They collaborated with the Roman authorities to abuse their brethren for their own benefits. Their lifestyle and occupation was one of deliberate constant sin, I guess, compared to the rest of us who sin on occasion but not by practice to make a living.
In our day and age, financially abusive people would be those that charge high interest rates on loans, such as credit card companies and pay-day lenders. They would also be scammers who take advantage of people, especially the poor and the elderly. Ponzi schemers like Bernard Madhoff would also be in this category. I would also include politicians and lobbyist who collaborate to line their pockets to the disadvantage of their constituents. Considering the recession that we are going through, one could also include the investment bankers and rating agencies who conspired to create and sell poorly designed mortgage-backed securities. Could we also include those businesses that moved factories offshore (or politicians and unions who passed legislation encouraging it), shutting down millions of factories, leaving fewer high-paying manufacturing jobs?
Jesus knew that the flow and influence of money affects the entire society and its people, and it is especially the poor who ultimately suffer from abuse, since they are at the bottom of the financial food chain. If you think about it, the economic system is one of the main influences and sources of power, in addition to government, business, military and educational institutions. Maybe that is why Jesus particularly focused on this group of people not only to associate with but also to minister to, and he called one of them to be a disciple–Matthew.
How much of an influence does faith have on those who run banks and work for them, investment firms, the United States Treasury, politicians and lobbyists, insurance companies, and rating agencies? Are high morals and ethics a top goal, or is the bottom line always profits? On one hand, the financial systems do work pretty well; if they were totally corrupt, things would be a whole lot worse than they are today. On the other hand, the gap between the rich and poor is the widest now that it has been in 40 years. When economic systems are fair and just, there is more opportunity for all to do well. Jesus greatly cares for the poor: Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” So it seems as if Jesus made efforts to minister to the spiritually “sick.” as he called them. He wasn’t just trying to save the group he was ministering to–in verse 13 he challenged them to think of helping the poor not as a sacrifice, but as a a merciful, generous response to his mercy for them.
In this we can see that we are called to raise up leaders in economics, business and politics of high moral standards. We are to pray for the institutions that affect us all greatly. Christians working in these institutions, especially financial ones are to conduct themselves with high ethics, and be a witness in the workplace and on committees and boards. These things are needed more now than ever. You and I are key to economic recovery.
*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in his selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the tenth post in this series.