A Money Coach in Canada

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Some things you can’t undo.

Here’s such a story. Judas was one of Jesus’ innermost circle. The gentle teachings of Jesus blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, let the little children come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven; the healing of paralytics, women with severe menstrual problems, lepers; the miraculous feeding of thousands with loaves and fishes; and oh yes, the gutsy confrontations, calling out the BS of kings and priests alike — all these, all these and more, Judas had heard, seen, tasted. And presumably he believed.

What inner demons drove Judas to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (about a quarter $Million in today’s terms) remains a mystery. But betray he did and both he and Jesus ended up dead; Jesus by the hands of the authorities, Judas by hanging himself, overcome by remorse. Some things you can’t undo.

Who do we betray for money?

Are we betraying our employer’s bottom line every time we advance our own interests on the workplace at the expense of a coworker?

Are we betraying animals every time we purchase the less expensive non free-range, non organic meat?

Are we betraying ourselves every time we gamble (play with) our money?

Are we betraying our partner when we browbeat him or her into a particular course of financial action?

Are we betraying Jesus all over again (for those to whom that matters) by acquiescing to Mammon (monetary systems that are unjust, that perpetuate economic power imbalances, or that hurt Creation) instead of overthrowing it?

Photo Credit: Muffet

Word. The particular story and thoughts that follow derive from my faith tradition, ie., Christianity. I’m writing with my fellow Sojourners in mind, primarily. Those of other persuasions may also connect to the broad theme of the post (and I hope you do).

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The question was so loaded it was life-threatening and Jesus knew it.

“What do you say, Rabbi?”
“Is it lawful to pay this tax to Caesar?”

The offence of the tribute tax went deeper than just having to cough up money when you were already the oppressed. The currency in which the tax had to be paid inherently served as imperial propaganda before the age of advertising: Its imagery of Caesar made devastatingly clear who had the power and who was the vanquished. It was scorchingly and humiliatingly personal too, an item you held right in the very palm of your hand.

You have the coins and it means you are colluding and integrating with the Empire and the cult of emperor worship. You don’t have coins and you are outside the economic system and you probably don’t survive.

To be asked by the religious leaders “Is it lawful [by God as the Hebrews understood him] to pay the tribute tax?” is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Answer “yes” and as a Jewish Rabbi you are now colluding with the Romans against God’s people. Answer “no” and the politicos in the crowd who helped frame up the question would legitimize killing you.

You know how Jesus answered the question. He first asked them to produce a coin (think of the implications of that), then asked the counter-question, “Whose image is on this coin?”. If you don’t know the rest of the story, it’s here.

What does this story say to us, two thousand years and a few cultures later?

Our coins, of course, are different. “In God we Trust,” some even read. Nonetheless coins, currency, money, are a construct of the empire (or world, if you prefer) in which we live. This empire does not crucify people or crush dissidents by leaving corpses rotting in our streets as a message to our families and communities or fund circus-spectacles featuring grotesque slaughters of men and beasts. But it is other. It is a construct. Unlike water, air, grain, milk, items all freely given to us as the necessities of life, money is a medium we humans created.

For some time now money hasn’t even been coin per se, nor even a representation of coin, but rather electronic blips and bytes representing ideas so complex and convoluted and separate from pretty much everything we know and understand that, frankly, we’ve pretty much lost track of it. It represents empire.

I argue this then. A healthy (holy?) stance towards money involves an internal distancing from it. I don’t mean negligence. I don’t mean rogue attempts to bypass currency with bits of silver or gold. Like it or not, we are as integrated with our empire as the Jews were in the Roman Empire. But let’s understand that money is no less a thing of “Caesar” now than back then.

Questions.

What does it mean when we assert our right to our “hard earned money”?

Are we consorting with the empire?

Photo Credit: HowardLake

Madoff - what it means for you

Back in the day, and by that I mean when the Romans occupied Israel, there was fraud the likes of which would do Madoff proud. So Jesus, perhaps alluding to a current event, told this story which has baffled many good christians. It seemingly flies in the face of what Jesus stood for. It goes pretty much like this:

A man, let’s call him Jack The Fraudster, was in charge of a Wealthy Man’s possessions (somewhat like a financial planner, I suppose). He had climbed his way through the ranks of the household staff and over time paid certain staff favours in exchange for them turning a blind eye to various peculiarities. This really pissed off the honest staff who found themselves unable to climb the ranks unless they colluded with Jack. Finally a few were mad enough that they approached Labour Relations in HR who waffled for years because they didn’t have any real power and besides some of them were in on it … but eventually the rumours reached Wealthy Man who ordered an investigation. The findings were troubling to say the least.

So Wealthy Man hauls in Jack the Fraudster, whom he’d trusted with pretty much everything, and confronts him. Jack the Fraudster is nothing if not weaselly and manages not to get sent to prison on the spot, but he is sent packing. Because Wealthy Man didn’t heed HR’s sound advice, Jack the Fraudster was allowed to personally clean out his desk. He did so, taking along his stewards Seal.

Jack knew as soon as word got out he’d never find employment as a steward again. He also knew he had no other particularly useful skills. He was screwed for life. Unless…. unless …

Unless he committed one last grand act of fraud which would gain him serious favours with some up-and-coming people and at the same time might, just might, appease Wealthy Man enough to have him shut the you-know-what up about his bad behaviour.

This is what he did. He went tearing around to all the up-and-coming people who owed Wealthy Man things like hundreds of jugs of olive oil, or cattle, or exotic spices. And he offered them pretty much a receivership deal: If they would pay just half of what they owed, he’s stamp (with the Seal) the records as being Paid In Full.

This accomplished 2 things:
1. Up-and-coming people owed him, big time. He’d be welcome at their homes for extended couch-surfing stints.
2. Wealthy Man, who probably assumed he’d never recoup his losses, got at least half of what he was owed instead of having to write it all off.

Wealthy Man had to hand it to him. In fact he chuckled about it at many a dinner party. (By the way, you didn’t think Wealthy Man became Wealthy Man by playing clean, did you?)

Here’s where things go sideways. We all expect Jesus to say, “Don’t do that!” but instead, he says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
Here’s my take. First, there’s just no way, no way, he is encouraging his followers to commit fraud. But I think he is acknowledging that Jack The Fraudster got one thing straight – he knew that finding himself a home was the #1 thing to be concerned about, and Jesus is acknowledging that it was really savvy to use all things at his disposal, things of much less personal significance (no kidding), to secure a future home for himself.

So for us, religious or not, the message could be something like: Get Clear on what’s of supreme importance to you. The things that make life worth living. Home. Family. Friends. People. and Get Clear on what is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Make sure what is inconsequential is serving the purpose of what is of supreme importance. A bit no-brainer, yet we always seem to need the reminder. I certainly do.

I’m no theologian. But that’s my take wearing my money-coaching lens.