Our Lord Jesus Christ taught that the basic problems arising from money, possessions and wealth had their roots in the heart and its attachments. This is especially clear in the Sermon on the Mount where a detachment from things in general and possessions in particular constitutes that poverty in spirit which is a blessing of the kingdom. It is this love of money which St. Paul calls the root of all evil. As the rich young ruler found out to his cost, this is no mere theoretical matter but a life and death decision concerning the following of Christ. Spiritual riches are conferred on those who, either in poverty or wealth, give without reserve - as in the example of the widow who put all she had into the Temple treasury.
Following this teaching of Christ, the economic life of the disciples and later the apostolic Church was based on the notion of an extended household where personal property existed but not as a private possession. In the Church there was a new creation and a new ‘qahal’ or gathering in which the precepts of the gospel had undermined every kind of acquisitiveness. This is seen in its clearest form in the common life practiced by the apostolic community in Jerusalem and notably in the disastrous consequences following on from the deception of Ananias and Sapphira who dropped down dead immediately after trying to deceive the apostles concerning their wealth. The driving out of the money changers from the Temple by our Lord must have been very fresh in the mind of those who knew that the life of the gospel stood in stark contrast to the financial corruption and injustice that surrounded them.
A gospel based praxis for today concerning money and possessions operates on two spiritual principles. The first is that God will provide for every kind of need and we should trust Him in that provision. Knowing this and living it out leads to the second principle: almsgiving is a blessing and provision for all, both for the giver and for the receiver. The more we give, the more we receive and this is a freedom in faith that most powerfully transforms our lives. This freedom and assurance removes far from us all the anxieties we often suffer about how we shall survive and live. Our heavenly Father knows we have need of these. We should not fret but trust Him and, for our part, work hard. All else will follow. Of course after we have trusted Him to supply our needs we need then prayerfully to consider how we expend his blessings on us for others. This is the concern of almsgiving and uppermost in our minds and hearts especially in Great Lent. It starts with money but does not end with money.
Our calling to use what we have in the service of the God includes our personal as well as our financial gifts from Him. The talents we have received must not be hidden away in false modesty or fearfulness but rather used to their fullest extent to bless others. Such is the teaching of the parable of the talents.
The practical and spiritual aspects of almsgiving in and through the Church are also exhaustively described by St Paul. Much of his teaching concerning almsgiving is in chapters 8 and 9 of his Second Letter to the Church at Corinth. Here he only recognises weekly personal giving as both a relief to the poor and a support for the Church’s work and Ministry. Nowhere does he mention fundraising, raffles, sales of goods or membership subscriptions! There is only one form of Christian giving and that is putting one’s hands into one’s pockets. This is his doctrine because he understands our Lord’s teaching and example concerning the blessings that come from sacrifice. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) He describes how a Christian should give and this can be summarised succinctly in these terms: - thankfully, joyfully, willingly, sacrificially, generously, trustingly, regularly and proportionately to our income. In respect of the last point St. Paul does not teach tithing (10% of our gross income) explicitly although in the Tradition of the Church this does remains the gold standard for Christian discipleship. By teaching proportionate giving, St Paul assumes a percentage, but, recognising the sacrificial aspect, he does not specify it. Each person must respond to the divine call according to how God has enlarged his heart. For some, 10% will not be enough.
The use of our wealth in the service of God will be included in our judgement after death so we must mindful of our vocation to serve the poor for none of us knows when we shall be called to account. After death it will be too late to amend our lives. We should not then be like the rich man who stacked his barns and lived in ease but who then died, mindless and heartless in his greed. We must not harden our hearts against our poor brethren as did the rich man in the case of Lazarus at his gate. Lent is a time when we return to these teachings with renewed earnestness, faith and commitment. The Fast requires from us that we respond to the call of God whole heartedly and with all our substance not just once a years for a few weeks but always and with everything. The giving of tithes and alms is a liberation for all from a grasping and acquisitive corrupt economic culture where the wolves of Wall Street are tamed to lie down meekly before the Lamb of the Cross. Let us choose wisely then whom we shall serve.