Money Talk: Money and Religion

I don’t remember any religious teacher telling me wealth was a good thing. But growing up ‘dirt poor’ as I did, I was more than willing to hear that message — at least I had salvation to look forward to. People in the village made fun of my family for being so poor, so to hear a preacher tell me that ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh,’ made me feel less embarrassed… and actually made me proud to be poor. I had no idea I was being duped.(Of course, I’m not the only one. Most westerners have inadvertently ‘drunk the kool-aid’.)So how did this happen?Taking Things Out of ContextThat’s the underlying question and answer in Going Broke with Jesus, an e-book I read by Kalinda Stevenson, Ph.D., whose mission is to liberate people from ‘Bad Bible,’ so they can live rich, abundant, joyful, and healthy lives.Armed with a Masters in Divinity studies, and fluent in both written and spoken Hebrew and Aramaic, the author demonstrates how taking an ancient text out of its societal and historical context leads to interpretation errors… (No! You don’t say!)That are then often used quite deliberately by those who have power to suppress the ambitions of those who have not. (No way! Who would do such a thing?)Texts intended to free people’s creativity become twisted to mean the opposite and make them feel good about a lowly station. (Trust me, Kalinda it worked.)For instance… have you heard the one about a rich man who is unable to enter the kingdom of heaven?It’s probably the most misunderstood verse about money. And it’s misuse by those in power to make those without power less discontent has caused millions of people like me and my family over time to fear money for loss of their salvation. We never spoke about it but it was embedded in our subconscious.What Would Jesus Say?If Jesus existed, he spoke the Aramaic language and lived in an Agrarian society in which the King — as God’s messenger on Earth — controlled all land. No one could own land, but the King could dispense it. A ‘rich’ man, then, was someone the King looked favorably upon enough to bestow land to them. Keep in mind, however, that in Jesus time, there was no word for ‘rich.’ It’s actually a deliberate mistranslation of the concept ‘bestowed’ and wasn’t introduced until several centuries after the original text was written, when the ‘common people’ were (finally) finding new ways to gain wealth — in effect, taking it away from those who had it bestowed. To be clear, there wasn’t a word for ‘rich’ because the concept itself didn’t exist. Think about it…

  • It was impossible for someone to climb the social ladder. 
  • A carpenter was born to a carpenter, a herder to a herder. 
  • Only the blessed powerful, the King’s court in effect, could be bestowed God’s blessing in the form of land. 
  • The rest of society existed to serve their needs and most were glad to do so.

Indoctrination at its finest, you could say.I’m sure if you’d asked someone about it, they’d probably have looked at you strangely, shrugged their shoulders, and said, ‘That’s just the way it is.’ (Exactly like we do with our own beliefs.)And, if you were one of the fortunate recipients of the King’s generosity, those without power interpreted it as a blessing from God. So they weren’t just ‘rich’ or ‘bestowed’ — they were also ‘blessed.’ As celebrities of their time… the ‘peasants’ were, of course, awestruck by them. (Some things never change.)Accordingly, the sheep herder would have willingly paid rent in the form of wool or meat to the blessed ‘owner’ of the land. If you weren’t so blessed, oh, well… it was your lot to serve those who were. This was the oppressive society that Jesus wanted to change. The King and his court were corrupt and abused their privileged position. In this story, then, Jesus and his followers are rebels or socialists.What Jesus Really Meant

I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle** than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24

According to Stevenson, the original text does not say ‘Kingdom of God’ — it says ‘heart.’ So now we have a different meaning altogether… ‘it is hard for a man of privilege to follow his heart.’Jesus was referring to the fact that the rich man refused the call to discipleship (or revolution forces, as other authors suggest). The story is not about the rich at all, but about adhering to a call to arms for everyone to join the rebellion… and to follow their hearts, which felt impossible to the man of privilege. Jesus is not talking about being rich, but about the overthrow of the existing order of things in which those who are rich and at the top of the social system will lose their advantage unless they share that wealth for the benefit of society. Kalinda Stevenson, Ph.D.In other words, it was a recruitment campaign to a revolutionary cause (similar to ‘Your Country Needs You’ propaganda campaigns during WWI). In Jesus’ world, this verse had a whole different meaning than the Latin translation handed down centuries later.

“It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a man of privilege to follow his heart.’ 

**Modern scholars debate the reference to the eye of the needle. Some claim the eye of the needle is the small door within the city gates through which common people passed (to avoid having to open the city gates and make the city vulnerable to attack), 

What is profoundly disturbing to me, is that the real intention of the money stories seldom get taught at Sunday Schools and Churches. Instead these stories of the outlaw hero’s attempt to set people free from economic and religious abuse get turned into biblical urban legends warning people about the evils of money… there is no power in ignorance of money. Yet church leaders speak so often about money being something ‘ungodly.’Every time you hear someone say, ‘The Bible says…’ about a particular topic, it probably doesn’t — at least not the way it’s claimed. Few things cause more hurt and confusion than religion doled out in Bible verses. Too often, isolated Bible verses become rules. The rules then become weapons to be used against people, such as:>Women may not lead.> Husbands must rule.> Slaves must submit obediently to their masters.> Gays have no place in the church.You can find Bible verses that seem to proclaim these rules. But when these verses are put into their own contexts, the strident clarity of the Bible verses turns into something else. The verses become pieces of a larger whole. And very frequently, the Bible verse that is so confidently proclaimed as the very ‘word of God’ turns out to be a distortion of the original intention behind the Bible verse.Kalinda Stevenson, Ph.D.

but that’s utter nonsense because city gates of that type only came into existence during the Middle Ages. In Jesus’ time cities were mostly protected by a maze of earth mounds. Other scholars suggest the eye of the needle is actually the eye of the needles used on bedouin tents to anchor them. That makes more sense to me but who knows?Cheers, Trevor

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