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What Do We Do With Money?
What Do We Do With Money?

It’s All a Gift

Thursday, September 23, 2021

What Do We Do With Money?

It’s All a Gift
Thursday, September 23, 2021

Jesus said to the host who had invited him, “When you hold a lunch or dinner . . . invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; and blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” —Luke 14:12–14

Inspired by the above exchange in the Gospel of Luke, Richard explores the economy of grace in which Jesus, and therefore God, desires us to live.

I’d like to contrast two economies or worldviews. The first economy is capitalism, which is based on quid pro quo, reward and punishment, and justice as retribution. This much product requires this much payment. It soon becomes the framework for our fundamental relationships, our basic self-image, and actions (“I deserve”; “You owe me”; “I will be generous if it helps me, too”), and constructs a faulty foundation for our relationship with the Divine.

We’ve got to admit that this system of exchange seems reasonable to almost everybody today. If we’re honest, it makes sense to us, too, and seems fair. I’m not going to say it’s wrong—it does much good. The only trouble is, Jesus doesn’t believe it at all, and he’s supposed to be our spiritual teacher.

Let’s contrast this “meritocracy,” the punishment/reward economy of basic capitalism, with what Jesus presents. I’m going to call it a gift economy. [1] In a gift economy, there is no equivalence between what we give and how much we get. We don’t really like this model, because we feel we’ve worked hard to get to our rightful social positions. We feel we have earned our rights.

Yet if we call ourselves Christians, we have to deal with the actual Gospel. The only way we can make the great turnaround and understand this is if we’ve had at least one experience of being given to without earning. It’s called forgiveness, unconditional love, and mercy. If we’ve never received unearned, undeserved love, we will stay in the capitalist worldview where 2 + 2 = 4. I put in my 2, I get my 2 back. But we remain very unsure, if not angry, about anything “free,” whether it is free health care (physical, mental, or spiritual) or even free education. These benefits can be seen as natural human rights that sustain peoples’ humanity and dignity, as papal social encyclicals make clear. All too often, though, we only want people in our own group to benefit from health care, education, and bail outs.

We don’t “deserve” anything, anything! It’s all a gift. Until we have begun to live in the kingdom of God, instead of the kingdoms of this world, we will think exactly like the world. To understand the Gospel in its radical, transformative power, we have to stop counting, measuring, and weighing. We have to stop saying “I deserve” and deciding who does not deserve. None of us deserves! This daily conversion is hard to do unless we’ve experienced infinite mercy and realized that it’s all a gift—all the time.

[1] “A gift economy, gift culture, or gift exchange is a mode of exchange where valuables are not traded or sold, but rather given without an explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards. This contrasts with a barter economy or a market economy, where goods and services are primarily exchanged for value received. Social norms and customs govern gift exchange.”

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Capitalist Economy and Gift Economy,” homily, September 1, 2019.

Story from Our Community:
As a single parent and survivor of domestic abuse, God’s gracious provision and constant renewal have transformed and strengthened my self-concept, re-wiring my old connections that said I was not smart enough, strong enough, or good enough. Throughout my day I stand inside Love, noting that I am seen and known and that in Christ, I am enough. —Amy R.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, Lamp Posts (detail), 2012, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: Identical lampposts are all in an ordered, symmetrical row, like a factory output of goods for our uncontrolled consumption. Both money and spirituality are tools, neither good nor bad. If they become weapons for manipulation, they have the potential to harm deeply.
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