The Spiritual Economy
Holy Saturday April 2006
21 He said to them, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lamp stand? 22 For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. 23 Let anyone with ears to hear listen!" 24 And he said to them, "Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."
My bible headlines these verses as a collection of proverbs. Proverbs are wise, pithy little truisms. These sayings are certainly that. For to those who have, more will be given.... sounds disturbingly like The rich get richer .... However, as true as these sayings may be in everyday mundane life, this is not what they are meant to describe. The words Let anyone with ears to hear listen! are a sign they have a their deeper spiritual significance. For we secular, often spiritually naive, Australians they propose a very different way of thinking. They are promise and threat. The promise is for great riches, the threat is the loss of everything. The choice is ours.
We may feel the sayings reflect the great inequity of our society. The rich get richer... where we are born does count. Instinctively we want a God who is 'fairer' than this. Older understandings of Christianity achieved this by postponing justice to the afterlife. The idea that this life's injustices are equalised by the rewards of paradise doesn't appeal for someone who can't believe in the afterlife! Besides this, can anything ever really justify the horrors done to people in this life?
The most financially or materially successful person can be a spiritual pauper. If the spiritual realm is the greater reality, is it that justice is to be seen there, so that the material injustice we are so familiar with does not really 'count?' If the material and mundane had no spiritual effect, so to speak, perhaps this would be so, although personally I would still ask, can anything ever really justify the horrors done to people in this life? In any case, the words from Mark's own Jesus make it plain that the physical matters. As for Matthew- Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?... .... Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. Matthew concludes, And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. We don't have to agree with his view of the afterlife to get the message!
So some of us will be born into a family or nation with greater spiritual awareness and be offered a head start, it seems. And others will be born into a situation of spiritual impoverishment. It happens. I can't see any justification. It just is. And it seems those who have will receive more.
What I am trying to say here is that the realm of the 'spiritual' is not exempt from the painful puzzles and contradictions of the 'material' realm. And I use the quotation marks because 'spiritual' and 'material' are closely interwoven. Christianity has no place for the idea of a physical world which is illusory, or so subordinate that it does not count. Matter matters.
What are we told about spiritual reality in these few verses?
Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket... there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed... I sense that all of our life needs to be 'exposed.' When we try and hide our shortcomings and fears, we cause ourselves illness. In other places in scripture they call Jesus the 'Light.' We need him to shine into us. I am not talking about careless and tasteless exposure of ourselves here, or some kind of 'anything goes' ethic. There is a place for self control and self-suppression of unhelpful impulses. And it is prudent to be careful how and when we reveal our struggles to others. But there is no place for repression. Not facing our own demons leads to a loss of what we have. We may present ourselves as a holy or pious persona to the world outside, but as much as we refuse honest introspection (the way 'Jesus shines his light on us), just so we refuse the riches of the spiritual life. In the end, a light will shine on us and we will discover we have lost everything.
... the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you... This is not the heresy of prosperity theology. The more we give to a healthy life- to allowing our inner secrets to be exposed to the Light and healed- the greater the reward.
Giving to a healthy life is to live the way the stories about Jesus show him living. It is how he would live if he were here in our shoes. It includes much introspection, but the introspection, and its effects, are tested, and proven and refined in action. Here again is the intersection of material and spiritual. A truly spiritual life shows its fruits in physical action.
So, as many a preacher may say, the giving of money can be a spiritual act. But the reward is freedom, not more money! To give money expecting a return is not a spiritual act- it is magic; that is, an attempt to manipulate reality to fit our desires. Just because if is the one true God we are trying to bend to our will does not stop it being the practice of magic!
Everything we do is a practice for the next time. Treat someone cruelly and it will be that little bit easier next time. A little lie, and a little lie, and another, and soon we can lie without thinking. Be kind, and take an interest, and with practice we become a changed person.
For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. This is one of the things about the spiritual life I am certain about. The more people open themselves to God- even to trying to find God, the richer their life becomes. The more we avoid this, the emptier we become. This is not something true for some particular brand of Christianity only . It is true for all those who seek after 'the more" to life in a way that reflects the humanity of Jesus- even where the person may never have heard of Jesus. (This is not a modern idea; see Romans 2:14)
In material economic terms (relative to Australia) I am losing ground. I do not have the financial security and social status my parents had. Retirement will be a lean affair without tropical beaches and lengthy overseas holidays. Yet in personal spiritual terms I am staggered at what I have been given. Monetary success is not necessarily the antithesis of spiritual reward, but the two are not linked, I think.
What is 'spiritual?' We often use the word as though we know it, but have cloudy ideas about what we mean! Spiritual does not mean believing the right thing, or having certain experiences which are envied by others, or are some measure of having ''it-" whatever ''it" might be. These uses of the word are really about defining status in the church, or marking the boundaries of exclusion for those who are not in the "in" group. They are an un-spiritual tool of those who wish to hold power over others.
Something is not spiritual because it is pious, or we talk about it in hushed tones. Piety can be unspiritual obsessiveness or fear, for example, and does not need the hushed tones to be mere sentimentality.
Spirituality starts with honestly living the Jesus life. It can be naive and misled. It may even be foolish. But it is marked by a certain humility that is seeking to live as Jesus showed us. It knows its poverty and shortcomings, and finally becomes rich in its assurance and peace.
The spiritual realm is the reality that this way of living is THE way to live. It is the primary reality, the reality where sentience and consciousness are the foundation on which the material grows and is organised. We- and I mean the two consciousnesses talking together- we are not some improbable event which finally developed from the basic building blocks of matter. We are some small, glorious (and self conscious) part of a much greater, unfathomable Consciousness that brings order out of matter. There is more to life than meets the eye!
We live, as westerners, in a world where the material, vital to our existence, is nonetheless idolised. This is not just in the shops, but in the underlying (and so universal that it seems real and obvious) assumption that matter is primary. In the end, to be spiritual is to discover our true nature. Sometimes, for a few seconds... even hours, living the spiritual life brings us to a small thin place through which we glimpse that greater consciousness.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.