To advance from a caste or labeling, whether in the Jewish or Roman structure, relied primarily upon money. Money bought marriage into another class. Money bought a better job. Money bought sycophants, trolls who heightened an individuals perception and thus power. Money could buy a better neighborhood. Money was a great motivator. Then, as now.
Image by Brett Hondow
Money's promises are a lie, attractive, exciting, and so tempting, but not the holiness of Heaven
By John Pearring
“You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Human esteem stealthily trumps God’s favor. It’s not insidious until we’re hooked.
In Jesus’ time, politics, religion, power, and esteem were wound together. They existed in a relatively fixed ordering of people into groups — healthy/unhealthy, urban and rural, many nationalities, and all kinds of rankings by reputation. Good and bad people, marked by their health, neighborhood, and history of moral behavior, were no different than us today. Repercussions were more severe, then, but labeling and canceling techniques were similar. Solutions to the ills of life abound, if you have the bank account.
To advance from a caste or to escape from ruinous labeling — whether in the Jewish or Roman structures — required funding. Money bought marriage into another class. Money bought a better job. Money bought sycophants, trolls who heightened an individuals perception and thus power. Money could buy a better neighborhood. Money was a great motivator. Then, as now.
The Spirit of God is also attractive, but on a different plane of wonder and desire than money's alluring immediacy. Sure, a full wallet is temporary and frail under unexpected expenses, but shiny sugary temptations lie behind every dollar. Logic can be influenced by priorities.
God’s interaction and graces miraculously heal, teach, and prophecy. God’s Spirit brings sharing and sacrifice to a society because there is a promise of eternal life. The power of money, though, competes for our attention over the power of God like no other thing because it promises the trappings of an eternal-looking life right now. It’s a lie, a cruel ruse, but it’s attractive, exciting, and oh, so tempting.
People in year 30 operated within their classes with varying power ranks. No one is ever financially equal no matter how constrained the social boundaries. From slaves to royalty, people hierarchically ruled over each other. Slaves were in charge of other slaves. Craftsmen, farmers, and fishermen held control over their peers. You could attain power by being trustworthy, talented, or clever. Or, you could cheat, steal, and hoard riches to buy your way into a better life.
The attraction of money is a catalyst and partner to all sin. God’s place in the hearts of people could be usurped at every single level in first-century hierarchies by plain old sin — lust, avarice, gluttony, and every other evil thing — funded by cash and postponed debt. The 21st Century is the same. Rather than be satisfied with our place, skills, and life, with money, we can not only improve our status and power but also our addictions.
The Spirit of God providing for your needs is not enough if you want power over others and need to exercise your heart’s desires at will. Discipline and sacrifice are tools of money as much as virtues in holiness. We strive for wealth and pleasure, saving and working for our payday, or we awaken to the call of holiness and strive to be sons and daughters of God.
Families organized themselves by gender, age, and parentage in Jesus’ time, just like we do today. The religious leaders functioned with a similar familial pecking order. Governments too had organized categories from military to bureaucrats. It’s familiar to us, this tapestry of individuals, domestic groups, workers, and elites.
Jesus pointed out the defects of the Pharisees, the religious leaders, more than any other group. He had an unrelenting distaste for the one thing that ran through all parts of woven society with alarming control — money. The Pharisees were especially admonished.
No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him. And [Jesus] said to them, “You justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God.
When we are locked into a system of family, religion, government, or business fueled and ruled by the politics and benefits of money, we’re not practiced in relying upon the Spirit of God and focused upon the promises of the next life. When we do practice a faithful life, we feel moved to call others to the arms of God. Financial missions and goals use tactics and efforts who operate under the promises of Mammon. It’s a crass reality. The demon of money & wealth extinguishes God’s beacons of holiness. They may perform holy acts to maintain appearances, but eventually earthly riches distract and consume even the best of us.
We might object to so certain an assessment, since all of us are coin-operated in some fashion. Sure, we strive to use our resources wisely. Bringing God into our finances, investments, and especially our burdens to fund the basic necessities, shifts us to hopes of a non-existent financial freedom. It’s shameful and exhausting how money’s dreamy hopes can distract us.
Jesus talked about the difficulty for wealthy folks to get into heaven and praised the poor who made sacrificial offerings with their eye on God’s love. With a heated rant, though, he railed against the wicked Pharisees who preyed upon the poor and were worse than the tax collectors.
Why was Jesus so judgmental about the religious leaders? When his chosen fell prey to the demon of money, their hearts, minds, and souls turned away from God. That’s bad enough, but Mammon’s reach ruined more than the holy. It stunted the vital testimony and inspiration of God’s spiritual authorities on earth.
Mammon’s control is an earthly device and has no place or use in heaven. Without the teaching and witness of the very religious elites whom God has anointed as his leadership, Jesus was justifiably disturbed by the vapid holiness personified in the Pharisaical culture. There is no future in money’s entrapment, and the future promised by the God who loves us was in peril.
Later, at the beginning of Chapter 17 in Luke, Jesus is quoted about what becomes of this kind of person. It’s not just the Pharisees but also us today. We’re temples of his Holy Spirit. We’re his authorities in this earthen place and within this temporary realm. He’s anointed and appointed each of us.
He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”