None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions. (Luke 14:33)
There have been many Christians, throughout the history of the Church, who have taken Jesus’ teaching here very literally.
The first Christian community at Jerusalem, seems to have shared all things in common. St Anthony of Egypt, and the monks of the early Church, gave up their many possessions and went to live in the desert. About 1,000 year later, St Francis of Assisi embraced “Lady Poverty” and forswore the wealth of his merchant father and lived literally from hand to mouth, dressed only in the simplest of habits. And many many others, in the religious orders have given up lives of comfort to follow Christ.
But in general most Christians do not, and did not live without possessions, and Jesus did not expect them to. He told the rich young man to give up his possessions, but not Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea who gave Jesus his tomb. The apostles appointed the first deacons to manage the finances of the Church, and even in the most difficult times the Church held property, and eventually houses and churches. Like any other organisation, the Church has needed finances to fund its activity, beautify its worship and feed its workers.
But necessary though this all is, the Church must never lose sight of the fundamental teaching of Jesus, and the challenges he lays before us all: where does our attachment lie? What is most important to us all?
My favourite story in this regard is told of the deacon Laurence, who was commanded by the Roman Magistrate to bring before the court all the riches of the Church (then, as now, the opponents of the Church like to think that it is very rich). He was given a deadline. The Magistrate was told that Laurence had indeed brought to the court the Church’s riches and laid them on the steps to the courthouse. The Magistrate came out of the court to see the sick, the disabled, the poor, the destitute, orphans and widows sitting on the steps.
“Behold!” said St Laurence. “Here are the treasures of the Church!”