One of the most fascinating and underacknowledged aspects of Jesus’ life is his preaching of an economic spirituality, an integration of who persons are with how they use their resources.
Jesus’ economic spirituality is strikingly simple, though far from simplistic. First, he teaches that all resources are ultimately God’s. Though humans may come into wealth or goods, and may even create their own store of resources, it is God who is first and last Creator. Anyone who acts as though they have created all of their own “wealth” has put themselves in place of God. Many of us have perhaps experienced the subtle tyrannies of the omnipotent strivings of those who imagine that they breathed all their goods into being.
Second, Jesus teaches that one’s resources are to be used for the good of all. This does not mean frivolously throwing money, food, ideas or time in all directions at once. Instead, Jesus continually privileges those who are on the margins of power and social acceptability. It is to the increased livelihood of these persons that one can look when wondering how to use one’s resources for the good of others. Jesus’ friends, who were certainly not in a position to influence Roman policy in this regard, still practiced this aspect of economic spirituality among themselves, sharing their resources among each other and with the poor. (Acts 2:44-45)
Paul, the famous disciple of Jesus, made this economic spirituality important in his own teaching. He personally oversaw a collection for poor associates in Jerusalem, and he was very concerned to see that wealthy members of the community did not take more than they needed at early eucharistic meals. (2 Corinthians 8-9, 1 Corinthians 11) Paul is also sometimes made The Theorist of Spiritual Gifts for his well-known ruminations of what the gifts of the Spirit are and how they should be used. (1 Corinthians 12) But I now wonder whether even these influential teachings of Paul were rooted in part in his economic spirituality. Just as Jesus encourages the use of material resources for the good of all, so Paul comes to the conviction that spiritual gifts are not for private enrichment alone, but finally for “the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7) This famous spiritual doctrine may indeed have been influenced by Jesus’ economic teaching, and was certainly a heritage of their shared Jewish identity.
Jesus is most clearly God’s economist when he talks about life’s big questions, such as the sense God makes of human life. When Jesus talks explicitly about God’s final judgment on our lives—which he rarely does—he continually refers not to sexual issues, not to proper deference to a pastor, bishop, or pope, not to the inerrancy of scripture, not to membership in a church, not to himself-as-my-personal-Lord-and-savior, not to right ritual. He continually refers to economic spirituality. Jesus clearly made economic spirituality in everyday life the ultimate test of faithfulness to God.