POSSIBLY the one subject today on which everyone, without exception, has an opinion, is money. Whether one is a schoolchild counting one's pocket money, a student considering one's grant, a housewife budgeting the housekeeping, or a bread-winner of a family examining one's earnings, money is a matter of concern.
And this is to say nothing of what it means to trade unionists, employers,politicians, accountants, tax officials, and professional economists.
But amid all the conflicting ideas on the subject (sometimes giving rise to family and industrial strife) is there such a thing as a Christian view of wealth? What, for example, was Jesus' attitude towards money? And do we share his outlook?
As a village carpenter for the greater part of his earthly life, are we to assume that Jesus worked for nothing? Didn't he also pay his taxes to the Roman occupational government as well as his Temple dues?
Moreover, isn't it true that he and his disciples had their own "bank account" looked after by Judas Iscariot? And when faced with the prospect of feeding 5,000 people, wasn't the first reaction of Jesus' inner circle of disciples one of questioning where the money could be found to cater for so many?
It would seem inaccurate, therefore, to regard Jesus as an impractical idealist in the sphere of finance. And neither should his life-style be regarded as that of a precursor for modern-day hippies,
There is also no evidence in his teaching that he glorified material poverty for its own sake. Quite a number of his friends were wealthy; he enjoyed their hospitality, and he was ultimately to be buried in the tomb of one of them. It cannot be said, then, on the evidence of the New Testament that Jesus thought it sinful either to possess or to use money.
What is unquestionable, however, is Jesus' conviction that the love of money and the accumulation of wealth are dangerous. Jesus was intensely aware of the truth contained in the proverb: "Riches are like salt water. The more you drink, the more you want to drink."
He tackled the subject on many occasions, not least in memorable parables such as that concerning Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) and that of the builder of larger barns for his grain (Luke 12:132I).
Moreover, his sayings on the matter have entered our literature, Who has not heard in some context or other such words of Jesus as "Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also" (Matthew 6:21)?
It is questionable, though, whether all of us share his belief that material riches actually are an insecure foundation on which to base our lives. Have we also considered sufficiently the possibility that possessions can blind a person to higher things?
If it is suggested that these are politically inspired questions, then perhaps we should study Jesus' remarks comparing "the cares of this world and delight in riches" with "thorns", as related in his parable of the Sower (Luke 8:14). And Didn't Jesus also say: "You cannot be the slave of both God and of money" (Luke 16:13)?
Certainly St Paul shared Jesus' views. He was neither ashamed to work as a tentmaker nor to enjoin the early Christians to pay their taxes (Romans 13:7). He was conscious, too, that spiritual fellowship carries with it the obligation to be concerned for others' material welfare, as was shown by his encouragement of financial support for. the Church in Jerusalem (I Corinthians 16:1-4).
Even so, St Paul was acutely aware of the dangers of amassing wealth. To Timothy he wrote:
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires , . For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this raving that some have wandered away from the Faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:910)
Clearly, money matters a great deal. Its lack breeds innumerable problems. Its unjust distribution in a family, a nation or throughout the world can cause hardship and want, How we obtain, regard and use it are vital questions.
Just as important is the whole matter of Christian stewardship of money at individual, parish or diocesan level. In the light of what Jesus taught on the subject of money, don't we have a particular obligation to study the subject?