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The Christian Faith and the Financial Crisis
Part One: The Christian Faith (5)


To develop his argument Griffiths has to show that the moral absolutes revealed in the Word of God are, so to speak, 'business friendly'. I began this talk by outlining very briefly the moral absolutes as I understand them in Jesus's teaching and they do not seem to me to be at all business friendly. Griffiths is of course aware of the problem - as a reader of the Bible he could hardly fail to be. How does he get round it?

He has two approaches. One is straightforwardly an interpretation of the words and actions of Jesus in the New Testament; the other is based on a particular reading of the laws attributed to God speaking through Moses in the Old Testament.

To begin with the New Testament. One of his arguments is that:

'In his lifestyle, Jesus accepted dinner invitations from the rich, used for himself resources provided by his friends and never suggested that as a rule for living his followers (such as Zacchaeus) were to sell all they possessed. For all who sought the Kingdom of God, the promise was that "all these things [material needs] shall be added unto you." (The Creation of Wealth, p.43)

The references he gives for the dinner invitations are all from the Gospel of Luke - 11.37; 14.1 and 5.29. The first two of these refer to dinner invitations from Pharisees. Although the Pharisees are referred to - disapprovingly - as 'lovers of money' (Luke 16.14) I have not had the impression that they were necessarily rich. I have read somewhere but cannot give the source that they did not accept payment for religious services, which included giving advice on the basis of their knowledge of the law. They were therefore obliged to master a craft to earn their living and this is why Paul, who had been a Pharisee (Acts 23.6), was also a tent-maker (Acts 18.3). In any case, even if the Pharisees in question were rich, accepting a dinner invitation from them hardly implies approval of rich people any more than accepting dinner invitations from Pharisees implies approval of Pharisees, for whom Jesus often expressed His disapproval in the most vigourous language.

The third example Griffiths gives does indeed refer to rich people:

'27 After this he went out, and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, "Follow me." 28 And he left everything, and rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house; and there was a large company of tax collectors and others sitting at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" 31 And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."'

Has it really escaped Griffiths's notice that Jesus says to Levi 'Follow me' and that as a consequence Levi 'left everything and rose and followed Him'? We know from the account in Matthew, 9.9 et seq, that Levi was Matthew who was one of the twelve disciples. Does Griffiths think he continued his trade as a tax collector when he became a disciple? Furthermore, when the scribes and Pharisees reproach Jesus because He is eating and drinking with sinners, He doesn't turn round and declare that they are not sinners. He declares them to be sinners and that He has gone among them to cure them and call them to repentance. And the fact that he eats with sinners certainly does not imply approval of, or indifference to, sin.

The very moving story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19. 1-10) is a strange one for Griffiths to choose. As a result of his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus, who 'was a chief tax collector and he was rich' announces: 'Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.' The reputation of the tax collectors was such that we can assume a great many people had been defrauded by the 'chief tax collector', Zacchaeus. If he gave up half his wealth and used the remainder to repay fourfold what he had gained by extortion we can assume there would not have been very much left. The biblical account does not tell us if he had a wife and children and if so what they might have thought of it. The tradition of the Church, however, tells us that Zacchaeus joined the apostles, accompanied Peter on his travels and eventually became Bishop of Caesarea - at a time when being Bishop of Caesarea was not a good career move (though I have seen no indication that he was martyred). (7)

(7) Synaxarion for April 20th.

Griffiths points out that in the parables of the talents and of the unjust steward, Jesus uses images from the world of trade and commerce: 'The parables of the talents, the pounds [another version of the parable of the talents - PB] and the unjust steward ... were all concerned with the proper management of resources and the lesson of each is that the Christian has a responsibility to use his resources in the best interests of the Kingdom of God' (Creation of Wealth, p.43). He is of course right that the images come from the world of commerce but I confess it never occurred to me to think that Jesus might have been using these parables to give His followers sound business advice, or even simply advice on the proper care of their share of the world's good things. In the case of the unjust steward the advice amounts to theft on a grand scale, since the steward, about to be sacked by his master, runs around currying favour with the master's clients by cancelling a large part of their debts. But Jesus explains quite clearly why He uses images from the world of commerce: 'the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light' (Luke 16.8. This is the New King James version which is used in the Orthodox Study Bible. The Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible has: 'the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light'). The children of the world - those who seek their own gain - know how to act in their own self interest. If the children of light (the children who are 'not of this world' - John 17.14; 18.36) devoted as much energy and ingenuity to pleasing God as the children of the world to pleasing themselves and those whom they have an interest in pleasing, they would be doing well.

But really one senses Griffiths knows that trying to make a case for wealth creation out of the words of Jesus is a lost cause. All his arguments are indirect - Jesus dined with rich people, accepted material help from His friends, assumed His followers would engage in charitable giving (which implies the means to do so), implicitly expressed His approval by using images from the world of business and commerce in the parables. These are all weak arguments. Every time Jesus addresses the question of wealth directly he speaks of it as something that is not desirable, that is an obstacle to the work of seeking the Kingdom of God. When He says of those who seek the Kingdom of God 'all these things [material needs] shall be added unto you' (Matt 6.33) he is commenting on what He has just said about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, who 'neither toil nor spin'. It is difficult to see that Griffiths, who believes strongly in the virtues of productive work, would have much time for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. But Jesus gives them to us as examples to be followed because they do not think ahead or plan for what they might need the following day. Jesus assures those who seek the Kingdom of God that their needs will be met without their having to worry on the matter. We might not agree with Jesus or trust His promises but that is not the issue here. Whether He is right or wrong, this is what He says, and He never introduces the qualifying, moderating explanations that tend to proliferate in the Bible commentaries.