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Thought for the week - 3 March 2024

As Father Paul is preaching in church today, I thought I’d write about money. That may well mean that you stop reading here, but if you do so, you’ll never know if I’m talking about the need for it to look after our buildings, or if we are giving it out. We actually do give money out reasonably regularly – occasionally in cash or buying a product or service to give to someone in need, or in having the heating turned on, or having insurance, or one of a number of myriad ways that we pay out so that those who worship with us can do so without stress or worry. I hope that we would not have our tables turned over in our temple, as so often, the money seems to go another way entirely!

Every week in churches throughout the world as we do here, baskets of money will be carried up the aisle. Sometimes they are presented to the priest who presides at mass, although I find this as toe curlingly embarrassing as when people bow or curtsey to me – I had a lot of curtseyers in London, and every time I would try and steady them and say ‘oh dear, is it your arthritis?’ until this habit ceased! There are many variations in the way this collecting and presenting of money is done but anyone who was completely ignorant of Christianity might think that money was, because of the way it is collected and processed, pretty central to Christian worship, and I think in some churches it probably is. Yet in today’s Gospel, Jesus overturns the money changers tables, and throws them out. Has something gone badly wrong with our liturgy? I don’t think it has. There is a difference between the offertory procession and the actions of the money changers, but it is a subtle one but one worth knowing. In the early Church, it would be easier to see the difference since the offertory procession would mean bringing up bread and wine for the Eucharist made in the homes of the people, as well as food for the poor. It would also include money and here we should be clear. There are plenty of verses which clearly look on money with a scornful eye. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1Timothy 6:10) If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? (Luke 16:11). Judas betrays Jesus for money. Still the fact that these works are uncomfortable with Judas having so banal a motive as a desire for money, shows that we all have an uneasiness about money. Really, the amount of money that Judas betrayed Jesus for was a small amount, tokenistic, you might say, of his decision to switch camps and work for the oppressor once he realised that the Messiah was not going to be quite what he was hoping for.

We may hope for enough money to pay our bills, to feed us, to keep our church open, to have enough left over to help others do the same as well, and hope here is a virtue, as long as we also work towards that hoped for outcome. Hope without God as its object though is merely an emotion, and it can be a very destructive emotion. It is this emotional hope which makes people preoccupied with money for its own sake, which makes them compulsive gamblers, which makes them always look for a new partner, who will bring them happiness. The keynote of this hope is to look not at what we have but what we don’t have. Happiness is always around the corner, but there is always another corner. So Christ clears the temple of those who have lost sight even of the hope offered by the old covenant. They were in the temple of God and they were thinking of everything except God. In effect they weren’t really in the temple, because the Temple is the presence of God and they sought another idol.

The virtue of hope this Lent is maybe based in the Cross, in the actions and reactions that led to it, and in the offering made upon it, for us and for all humanity. Love and hope became entwined on that tree and if we hope to keep our church open, and if we hope to have enough left to help others live as we live, then we do so out of love not of money but love of our neighbour, love of God. This is why we give to the church that gives to us, and why that money is set aside, taken into the Sanctuary, because unlike the Temple in those ancient days, we are using these offerings to bring hope to people out of love for each other, not out of love for money – however, if you do find yourself loving money, the best remedy is certainly to give it away!


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