‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’ (Luke 16:13)
This week the Bank of England issued the first plastic banknotes - specifically a £5 note. To be more accurate, these are polymer notes, and can can be dipped in a hot cup of coffee, wiped clean, and will even survive going through the washing machine. It is said that they will last five years longer than the paper fivers … though my fivers last hardly any time at all!
But it does lead us to pause and think about this incredible thing called money.
After all isn’t it just metal and paper or polymer, or perhaps not even that? Surely, money is nothing more than numbers on screens, and characters kept in data centres, words spoken over phone lines, flitting across hyperspace? And yet people work for it, and dream of it, and will even kill for it.
But of course, it is not money in itself which they are all after, but what it can do.
It can make us rich. It can make us powerful. It can make us comfortable. It can make us happy.
But can it make us happy? Certainly, many people can be lifted out of misery and suffering by sometimes just a little money – a little to avoid hunger, a little to provide medical care, a little to provide education. And we often suppose that if we just had that lottery win or the unexpected inheritance it would lift us out the need every work again, and give us a life of comfort and luxury.
And yet, the truly rich – do they stop working? Do they stop looking for ways to get more money, more possessions, more power? Not at all, because the pursuit of material things is never ending. It is almost like an addicts compulsion. There can never be enough, because the happiness that we think wealth will bring never actually arrives. They may not suffer from the misery of poverty, they may have all the cars, clothes, gadgets and holidays the rest of us yearn for, but none of these bring true friendship, loyalty, commitment, happiness and love. The most important values and virtues, honesty, courage, reliability, generosity – none of these can be bought.
And this is why Christ says we cannot be slaves of both God and money. To seek happiness in money, power, possessions, material things, is to seek fulfilment where it can never be found. It is a pursuit of happiness which will runs into a cul-de-sac, ending in dissatisfaction, restlessness, bitterness.
To serve God is to put material concerns second and true human values first.
You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.