It is my estimation that one of the unheralded misconceptions regarding Christ and his earthly ministry is his own relationship and teaching on money. The commonly accepted understanding of Jesus’s life is that he was indigent, the offspring of penniless parents who could barely afford the lowest tier of sacrificial animals at his purification. (Luke 2:24; cf. Lev. 12:8) Yet, there are some who push back on this notion, at least in its extreme, citing Jesus’s (and his father’s) reputation as a skilled craftsman which could imply that at the very least he lived steadily above mere survival. (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3) Regardless, it might be sufficient to say that Christ and his disciples, though not entirely destitute, were certainly not classified among the upper class of society. Despite being privy to the hospitality and generosity of wealthy hosts (Luke 7:36–50; 8:1–3), Jesus’s own testimony as an itinerant minister is indicative of his socioeconomic status. “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests,” Jesus declares, “but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)
It is with this understanding in mind that one must approach the further teachings of Christ on the subject of wealth. Keeping the Christological insistence on the immanence of the kingdom in view, the establishment of the kingdom of heaven was one that would reverse all evils, including that of the suffering of the poor. Throughout the Gospels, it is clear that “Jesus allotted a prominent place in his ministry to marginalized individuals . . . demanding just treatment for the poor [and] generosity toward the needy.” (Hays, 803) This is evident from the outset of Christ’s public ministry, when he proclaims, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18–19)
There is a common fallacy that suggests the poorer one is, the more faithful and spiritual that individual ought to be; likewise, the richer one is, the less faithful and less spiritual. It has often been believed that the increase in affluence equates to a decrease in devotedness. While it is clear from Christ’s teachings that wealth is an obstacle to faith (Luke 8:14; 18:24–25), it is unfounded to assume that money has no place in the life of faith. Its place is one of both great significance and jeopardy.
Consequently, the Messiah’s teachings on finances serve to instruct one on how to personally approach wealth; not as something which should be avoided or beloved, but as something which should be utilized for the furtherance of the kingdom. Pursuing it with one’s life was deemed a waste. (Luke 12:15–31) Jesus’s insistence on the sacrificial surrender of wealth for the good of the gospel is a striking example on how individual finances should be regarded. That is, with responsibility and liberality. (Luke 11:42; 18:22) Christ would have his disciples to be neither miserly nor ignorant when it came to the matter of wealth. Rather, with the gospel of the kingdom at the fore, one can be both openhanded and pragmatic with one’s finances. As such, the life of a believer is a life of tension even (especially) in the realm of money, understanding both the judiciousness and graciousness of Christ’s teaching for the individual.
- C. M. Hays, “Rich and Poor,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013).