Article 22

WEALTH in Luke’s Gospel

“You received without payment, give without payment.”  Mt 10: 8
We live in a time in which there is great concern about how the resources of the earth are being consumed at an ever increasing rate.  Along with this concern we are acutely aware of the haves and the have nots.  We tend to think that this is a modern problem.  Yes, the global warming of the earth due to pollution is a recent phenomenon.  However, unequal distribution of the wealth of the earth is not.

The Second Vatican Council told us, “God destined the earth and all it contains for all people.”(GS 69)  St Basil (died 379 AD) wrote, “Aren’t you behaving like a thief when you consider yours the riches of this world, while these riches have been entrusted to you for stewardship.”  This problem was a concern for Luke and Jesus.

In the opening chapters Luke clearly has Jesus identifying with the poor.  The infancy narratives tell us of the visit of the shepherds.  These people were on the lowest rung of the social ladder yet by having them visit the baby Jesus Luke is announcing that in his adult life Jesus will show much concern for the poor.

Thirty years later when John the Baptist appears on the scene he emphasises the importance of justice in matters of money.  The people, soldiers and tax collectors ask him, “What shall we do?”  He replies, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.  Do not practise extortion.”  (3: 11-14) “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  This question is asked twice in Luke’s Gospel.  The first time it is asked by a scholar of the law.  The answer given by Jesus is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … and your neighbour as yourself.”  To this Jesus adds, “Do this and you will live.”  (10: 25-28)  Surely Jesus is giving us the recipe for living life to the full.

In 18: 18-23 an official again asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”  This time he is told to keep the commandments.  “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honour your father and your mother.”  No mention is made of the first three.  By writing this way Luke is equating love of God and love of neighbour.  This time however there is a sting in the tail.  “Sell all that you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.”  This is impossible.  What then is Jesus telling us?

Perhaps the answer lies in the parable of the Good Samaritan which follows immediately on the question asked by the scholar of the law.  Who was neighbour to the victim, the Priest, the Levite or the Samaritan?  “The one who treated him with mercy.”  The one who helped him, paid for his accommodation, medical treatment and recuperation.  The Samaritan shows great generosity towards this poor man;  he risks his own safety; he gives of his time breaking his journey to help the less fortunate; he uses his influence with the inn-keeper persuading him to accept the additional burden of caring for the injured man; finally he pays all the expenses ruling out any possibility of repayment.  And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”

In the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6: 27-38) we receive a number of Jesus’ sayings related to how we make use of our wealth:  “Give to everyone who asks of you.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Do good to others.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Give … a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.”

In the parable of the “Rich Fool” we are told about the farmer who thought that his sole purpose in life was to enjoy the benefits of his abundant harvest.  ‘I have so many good things stored up for many years; I will rest, eat, drink and be merry.’  Shortly after this parable Jesus presents us with a great challenge.  “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be?”

Zacchaeus, the rich tax-collector shows himself a true follower of the Master when he says, “I give half my possessions to the poor.”

Once again I quote St Basil.  “When someone steals another person’s clothes we call him thief.  Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?  The bread in your cupboard belongs to the person who is hungry.  The coat hanging, unused, in your wardrobe belongs to the person who needs it.  The shoes rotting in your cupboard belong to the person who has no shoes. The money which you are hoarding belongs to the poor.

1  The original text is written in the present tense.  Some translators have used the future tense which gives a completely different meaning.  Far from being the person who is converted, Zacchaeus is an example to all those around him.