Last week we carried on studying biblical economic justice, this time turning to the New Testament. We looked at three passages:

God and Money

First we read the famous words of Jesus, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24).

This is such a foundational place for how we are to handle money… it can be a great tool and servant, but it should never be our master, and certainly should never rival God’s place as number one in our affections.

Parable of the Talents

Next we looked at a famous story Jesus told about money. The parable of the talents is often interpreted as telling us to use our skills (or talents!) to be productive for the Kingdom. And that’s part of it, but let’s not forget that the talents from the story are actually amounts of money. So maybe this is a helpful translation for reminding us this story is also about finance…

‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”

‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”

‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:14-30)

The message of the story here seems to be to put our wealth to work in order to make money, which can in turn be used for the Kingdom. So God is not against money – in fact he is in favour of wealth creation. We are called to be good stewards of what we have by increasing its value, not simply burying it in the ground.

The lazy servant is told he should at least have placed the money in the bank to earn interest. And we know that God is not in favour of simply loaning money to gain interest (see last week on what Deuteronomy says about not charging interest) – yet here even this is considered better than doing nothing. But the better thing to do would be to use his initiative and entrepreneurial ability to create wealth.

So God is in favour of wealth creation, but always placed in the context of not letting money be our master, and also remembering this final reading…

The Fall of the Great City

The book of Revelation records the overthrow of Babylon (a metaphor here for ancient Rome). Rome was the capital of the empire, seat of power of a malicious that was persecuting and killing Christians across the known-world. And yet Rome’s downfall here is celebrated not only (and perhaps not mainly) for this persecution, but also because of her practice of making money and growing wealthy through the oppression of the poor. Notice how much of this reading is a criticism of ‘merchants’ who gain ‘excessive luxuries’ through their trading in the city.

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendour. With a mighty voice he shouted:

“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
    She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
    a haunt for every unclean bird,
    a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
For all the nations have drunk
    the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
    and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

Warning to Escape Babylon’s Judgment

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:

“‘Come out of her, my people,’
    so that you will not share in her sins,
    so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
    and God has remembered her crimes.
Give back to her as she has given;
    pay her back double for what she has done.
    Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
Give her as much torment and grief
    as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
    ‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;
    I will never mourn.’
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
    death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
    for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.

“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’

“The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

“They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendour have vanished, never to be recovered.’ The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn and cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’

“Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    where all who had ships on the sea
    became rich through her wealth!
In one hour she has been brought to ruin!’

“Rejoice over her, you heavens!
    Rejoice, you people of God!
    Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
    with the judgment she imposed on you.”

Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:

“With such violence
    the great city of Babylon will be thrown down,
    never to be found again.
The music of harpists and musicians, pipers and trumpeters,
    will never be heard in you again.
No worker of any trade
    will ever be found in you again.
The sound of a millstone
    will never be heard in you again.
The light of a lamp
    will never shine in you again.
The voice of bridegroom and bride
    will never be heard in you again.
Your merchants were the world’s important people.
    By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people,
    of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.”

(Revelation 18:1-24)

This powerful passage makes it firmly clear that God is against those who build great wealth for themselves at the expense of the poor. Those who trade in all kinds of commodities, including ‘human beings sold as slaves’ are definitely not part of God’s economy. He is in favour of wealth creation, but not when this enslaves or robs others.

When discussing this last passage more than one of us saw parallels from ancient Rome and modern day London – a great city, a former capital of empire, filled with merchants who trade in all sorts of commodities, and who have frequently grown rich through the exploitation of the poor. Next week we’ll end this God’s economy series by looking more closely at modern day London, and what we can do to fight for financial justice for those exploited by this city.

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