Chapter 1 - Treasure, Gold, Money
Nothing is more basic to modern economics than money - so too apparently in Jesus’ time.
So it would seem to be a good place to start an economics review of the Gospels, especially since the first economics lesson from the Gospels is also one of the most famous: the gift of gold to the newborn baby…
Matthew 2:11 As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Money is seen throughout the Gospels much as it is seen today: a means of exchange, with utility to transact, and a store of value. Money is also seen as something to be given away…
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Mark 10:21 As Jesus looked at him, he felt love for him and said, “You lack one thing. Go, sell whatever you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 10:22 But at this statement, the man looked sad and went away sorrowful, for he was very rich.
And was a source for bribes and the fuel of conspiracy theories.
Matthew 28:12 After they had assembled with the elders and formed a plan, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers. 28:15 So they took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story is told among the Jews to this day.
The priests were the chief antagonists of the Gospels, but even they had their limits.
Matthew 27:6 The chief priests took the silver and said, “It is not lawful to put this into the temple treasury, since it is blood money.”
Likewise, in the Gospels treasure is seen much like money and is referred almost always metaphorically and metaphysically…
Matthew 6:19 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.
Luke 12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Also, like today, coin can be a source of temptation.
Matthew 26:15 and said, “What will you give me to betray him into your hands?” So they set out thirty silver coins for him.
Money is also seen as a tool of the powerful, such as the chief priests…
Matthew 27:3 Now when Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus had been condemned, he regretted what he had done and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders, 27:4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!” But they said, “What is that to us? You take care of it yourself!”
And associated with tragedy and regret…
Matthew 27:5 So Judas threw the silver coins into the temple and left. Then he went out and hanged himself.
Lastly, it is something shown to have value to people…
Luke 15:8 “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it? 15:9 Then when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
The Gospels use money and treasure to paint moral choices – to teach lessons. These analogies are everywhere in the Gospels and are especially prevalent in the parables as economic motives are almost always front and center in Jesus’ stories and the miracles.
Matthew 12:35 The good person brings good things out of his good treasury, and the evil person brings evil things out of his evil treasury.
The lowly penny is used as a way to show the relative worth of sparrows, and us.
Luke 12:6 Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 12:7 In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
And how one should pay their dues…
Matthew 5:25 Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 5:26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
Assets (3) / Estate
There is much in the Old Testament about the importance of inheritances. In the following parable we see the importance of such issues then, and in the present. The story seems eerily prescient in the case of Donald Trump and his older brother Freddy as described in this NY Times article from 2016 (For Donald Trump, Lessons From a Brother’s Suffering – NY Times, Jan 2nd 2016)
The Parable of the Compassionate Father
Luke 15:11 Then Jesus said, “A man had two sons. 15:12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.’ So he divided his assets between them. 15:13 After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle. 15:14 Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. 15:15 So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 15:16 He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 15:17 But when he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! 15:18 I will get up and go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.”’ 15:20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. 15:21 Then his son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 15:22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Hurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 15:23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, 15:24 because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again – he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
15:25 “Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 15:26 So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. 15:27 The slave replied, ‘Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got his son back safe and sound.’ 15:28 But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, 15:29 but he answered his father, ‘Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! 15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 15:31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. 15:32 It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.’”