Category Archives: money

Nothing for Caesar

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Matthew 22: 21

Is there anything that is not God’s?

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, ” says Psalm 24: 1.

“I am the Lord and there is no other,” according to Isaiah 45: 5, 6 in today’s first reading.

Yes, I know the question was a trap for Jesus. But so many have been entrapped by his response and hold on to an idolization of the State, of Caesar.

We not only give Caesar his money but we give him our souls.

We think that one party, one candidate, one position will bring what we want and need. But, how often are political promises nothing more than pampering to our self-interests?

As the late Jesuit priest John Kavanaugh noted: “The empire and those who vie for its throne offer us, in differing forms, an ideology of self-interest.”

Gustavo Gutiérrez, Dominican priest and founder of liberation theology, is blunt in his commentary in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year (pp. 244-245). The question is about money.

In the Pharisee’s question, there is a possible insinuation of not paying their tax and those of their keeping the money for themselves. Their would-be nationalism does not go further. Jesus is going to the root: it is necessary to eradicate all dependency on money. It is not only a question of breaking with the political domination of the emperor; it is necessary to break with the oppression that comes from the attachment to money and its possibilities of exploiting others. Jesus tells them to give the coin back to Caesar and to be liberated from money (mammon, see Mt 6:24). Only then will they be able to worship the true God and to give him what belongs to him.

José Antonio Pagola is even more blunt:

What is it that belongs to Caesar that is not God’s? Only his unjust money.

Give to God what is God’s – and there is nothing left for Caesar.

In this respect, Dorothy Day quoted Saint Hilary:

The less we ask of Caesar, the less we will have to render to Caesar.


New golden calves

We who were freed from slavery by the power of God give up on God so easily.

When God seems absent we seek something that will give us a sense of power.

So the people of Israel in the desert seek a tangible substitute for the saving God – something that they can know and manipulate: a golden calf. It will go before them because, as they believe, it was the molten calf, a work of their hands, that brought them out of Egypt.

The story (Exodus 32) is well known, but we often forget that the people invested power in something that they made.

We usually talk about this as the worship of an idol. But it’s really a type of fetishism.

When Pope Francis spoke to ambassadors last year, he used the image of the golden calf to critique economic systems that substitute money for persons.

The adoration of the ancient golden calf has found a new and ruthless image in the fetishism of money and in the dictatorship of the faceless economy which lacks a truly human purpose. (My translation from the Spanish.)

The official translation softens the pope’s critique, talking only of an “idolatry” of money.

The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.

But the pope has spoken more than once of the “fetishism of money.” Sadly, the translators usually use the term idolatry, instead of fetishism.

But what is a fetish?

In the 25th anniversary edition of Following Christ in a Consumer Society, p. 34, Fr. John Kavanaugh put it succinctly:

A “fetish” is something that is fabricated, the product of human work; but it is also something we relate to in worshipful devotion. Even though it is something that we ourselves have made, we invest it with power over us and we refashion ourselves in its image.

That’s what the people did in the desert. That’s what we do when the bottom line or our bank accounts become primary.

And that’s what happens when we let anything made by us be the criterion for our lives.

Isn’t it also fetishism when we look for praise from others as the criterion for our actions? As Jesus says in today’s Gospel (John 5: 44):

As long as you seek praise from one another, instead of seeking the glory which comes from the only God, how can you believe?

What are the fetishes in our lives?

What works of our hands (or our hearts and minds) do we let rule us?

How will we begin to turn from these fetishes and seek the glory of God?


The challenge of seeing Lazarus

“Not to share one’s goods with the poor
is to rob them and to deprive them of life.
It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.”
St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Lazarus

 Luke’s Gospel is a major challenge for us who come from rich nations. In many ways we are like the nameless rich man who feasts while Lazarus stares, unseen, at our doorsteps. Today’s Gospel, Luke 16: 19-31, is hard to hear, if we are really open to God’s Word.

It is hard to see those who are poor and marginalized. We’d rather turn away. We find excuses not to look.

We prefer to have splendid churches – but how many of us really open our hearts to the poor?

I know that I am generalizing. I know many people devoted to sharing with the poor, to accompanying them.

But this is the challenge of a society where power and wealth are idolized, where the bottom line is all too important.

This is not new.

Amos saw this in his day, as he castigated those who lounged on their ivory-inlaid beds and ate the best of meats.

Isaiah (chapter 58) saw this as he castigated religious cults with out sharing with the poor.

St. John Chrysostom  spoke clearly against those who would neglect the poor to enrich the churches:

God does not want gold vessels but gold hearts….

What use is it for Christ to have golden cups if he is dying of hunger? First fill the hungry person; then adorn the table with what is left over.

Pope John Paul II, at a Mass in Edmonton, Ontario, Canada, bluntly challenged North Americans:

“In the light of Christ’s words, the poor South will judge the rich North. And the poor people and poor nations—poor in different way, not only lacking food, but also deprived of freedom and other human rights—will judge those who take these goods away from them, amassing to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others.”

So what are we to do?

As Pope Francis recently said

You can’t know Jesus in first class. You get to know Jesus out and about in your everyday, daily life.

And where is this?

As Pope Francis said in July:

…our life will only be changed when we touch Christ’s wounds present in the poor, sick and needy.

This is not easy. But, if we really see and touch the poor, we may be graced with love.


Money takes away your memory

Yesterday, on the way to the countryside, I stopped at a gas station convenience store to buy water, Halls lozenges (for a dry throat), and a bottle of Gator-Ade (to rehydrate my diarrhea-ridden body).

As I waited to pay, I heard the cashier say to a customer that she might not remember but we know each other. The customer was surprised when the cashier said that they went to school together, but she didn’t really respond to the cashier.

As I paid for my purchases I remarked to the cashier that she had a good memory. She seemed pleased but noted, “Money takes away your memory.”

That remark has stayed with me for almost a day.

The two women didn’t, at first sight, seem to be that different in terms of economic status. But I noted that the customer was buying a lot of chips and other snacks and left with her husband, kids, and others in a small pickup not much newer than mine. But the cashier was in a very poorly paid job.

Does money make us forget – or, at the very least, facilitate forgetfulness?

I think so, since it puts a veil of security around us who have money. We don’t face the precariousness of life that so many do. We see others as mere instruments in the economy who are there merely to facilitate our purchases. We don’t respond to them as persons – as the cashier tried to reach out in a personal and human way to the customer.

Maybe this is a new Lenten discipline we should undertake: seeing those who are around us, especially the poor and those in low-paying jobs who serve us, and responding to them in a personal way.

Who knows? We may find Jesus there – or, at least, as I did yesterday, some of the wisdom of God.