The society that Jesus knew was very different from ours. Only the powerful families of Jerusalem and the big landowners of Tiberias could accumulate gold and silver coins. Farmworkers could hardly get hold of bronze or copper coin, of little value. Many lived without money, exchanging products in a life of pure subsistence.
In such a society, Jesus surprisingly speaks frequently of money. With no land or fixed work, his life as an itinerant prophet dedicated to God’s cause allows him to speak with complete freedom. On the other hand, his love for the poor and his passion for God’s justice urge him to defend always the most excluded.
He speaks of money in very personal terms. He spontaneously calls it dishonest money or dishonest wealth. It seems that he does not know any “clean money.” The wealth of those powerful people is dishonest because it has been amassed unjustly and because they enjoy it without sharing it with the poor and the hungry.
What can those who possess these dishonest riches do? Luke has preserved some peculiar words from Jesus. Though the phrase can result somewhat obscure because of its conciseness, its content must not fall into oblivion. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Jesus comes to say to those who are rich: “Use your dishonest wealth to help the poor; win their friendship by sharing your goods with them. They will be your friends and, when in the hour of death money is of no use to you at all, they will welcome you into the Father’s house.” In other words, the best way to “wash clean” dishonest money before God is to share it with his poorest children.
His words were not well received. Luke tells us that the Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him. They do not understand Jesus’ message. They are not interested in hearing him speak about money. They are only concerned about knowing and faithfully fulfilling the law. They consider wealth as a sign that God blesses their lives.
Although this vision of wealth as a sign of blessing is backed up by a long biblical tradition, it is not of the Gospel. We have to say this aloud because there are rich people who almost spontaneously think that their economic success and their prosperity are the best signs that God approves of their lives.
Followers of Jesus cannot do whatever they want with their money: there is a way to make money, spend it and enjoy it that is unjust, since it forgets those who are the poorest.
September 18, 2016
25 Sunday O. T. (C)
Luke 16, 1-13