Growing up Christian in an affluent society, there was a passage from scripture that always left me perplexed: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other. … You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Did this mean that I was to sell all I owned and become like St. Francis of Assisi, the wealthy 13th-century merchant’s son who rejected his inheritance and lived like a beggar? Or did I have to live like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, adopting extreme simplicity, serving the poorest of the poor
Ministers explained to me that money isn’t the problem; it’s love of money. However, that argument seemed insincere to me as I observed the wealth and conduct of some people who called themselves Christians.
What I’ve come to realize is that there’s a difference between having money and compromising one’s principles for the sake of money. There’s a difference between having a comfortable lifestyle and sacrificing the well-being of one’s neighbour for the sake of greed.
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American Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, owns three homes and lives quite comfortably. Yet it’s very clear that he’s a strong advocate for a world that’s more just, more kind, a world that’s concerned about the well-being of all children, no matter where they live or what they look like. Regardless of his religious affiliation (he’s a non-practising Jew), most would agree that Sanders understands the principle of which Jesus spoke.
Also serving in the United States Senate is Joe Manchin, a Catholic. Manchin is extremely wealthy and has disconcerting economic ties to the fossil-fuel industry. He has also been a stubborn opponent of global efforts to deal effectively with the climate crisis.
Many would argue that it’s a conflict of interest for a politician to make laws that increase the value of their economic investments. When recently challenged by a group of American citizens over this concern, Manchin became the poster-boy of climate emergency denial as he drove his Maserati through a group of young environmentalists who were chanting, “We want to live! We want to live!”
I don’t have access to Manchin’s conscience, but his behaviour seems to demonstrate disrespect for young people who simply want to grow up and make a better world.
Other powerful people have exhibited behaviour similar to that of Manchin.
Joseph Mobutu Sese Seko allowed his friend Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba to be assassinated in order to become the dictator of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he renamed Zaire.
Mobutu took advantage of Cold War alliances and allowed his country to be pillaged of natural resources. He ruled by corruption and violence, living in luxury while his people starved. Near the end of his regime, he would not even appear in public, opting to remain in a high-security yacht on the Congo River.
Manchin and Mobutu made the choice to pursue wealth. It’s possible, however, to live a principled life, where one works hard to make a better world for others and still enjoy relative comfort. One doesn’t have to serve money in order to have money.
Frederick Banting was part of the team that discovered insulin 100 years ago. He sold the patent to the University of Toronto for $1, saying, “Insulin doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the world.” Despite this, he maintained a high standard of living.
I’m also very thankful that my career affords me a comfortable lifestyle while allowing me to maintain my ideals and goals to build a better, kinder future.
What does it benefit a person to gain the whole world and lose their soul? (Mark 8:36)
There’s nothing wrong with having money. We just need to be mindful of what it’s actually costing us.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. For interview requests, click here.
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