Has a saying of Jesus ever brought you up short? After a lifetime of churchgoing and scripture reading, I am not usually surprised to hear something from the Bible, especially not in one of the appointed Sunday gospel readings. But here was Jesus, giving some clear guidance on what we can do with our wealth:
Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (Luke 6:35)
Did Jesus really say that? I tried to imagine myself in priestly robes dismissing the congregation with this three-point charge. How would people take this seemingly irresponsible financial advice seriously?
Unbeknownst to me, in that very same liturgical moment in a church far far away, my partner Rose was hearing the same reading, and we both had the same thought: Why have we never used this in Wisdom & Money? Having presented itself to both of us in this way, that Sunday gospel reading (Luke 6:27-36) became the text for our lectio divina practice in the Wisdom & Money Virtual Open Retreat that soon followed.
For the two full days of our Open Retreats, our custom is to spend time in a variety of practices, including Wisdom practices such as lectio divina, or sacred reading. We listen to a passage read aloud and notice a word or phrase that shimmers for us. We speak aloud the word or phrase, and the passage comes alive in the many voices echoing Jesus’ words. We keep a time of silence together to allow that word or phrase continue to resonate in our memory and imagination. We then share with one another in conversation what arose for us, as we are so moved.
On this occasion, I spoke about the word that had caught my ear in hearing the passage again: “credit”
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? …. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? … If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?
I heard “credit” as a bookkeeping term for an increase, a “plus,” as when I make a deposit in my checking account. I make a deposit and my balance grows. If I lend someone money without receiving it back, that would seem like a “minus.” Why would Jesus call that a “credit?”
I thought, it’s as if Jesus were saying something like this: whenever I lend money, not expecting to get it back, I make a deposit of some kind in some other account, and my balance there increases. The next morning, as part of a creative practice for the Retreat, I drew a portrait of my “money-self.” It looked like this: I had one foot on the earth and one foot suspended behind me. I had one handful of money reaching forward, as if making a loan, and another hand reaching upward, making that deposit in a higher realm, like stashing treasure in heaven.
I continued to ponder, what is the nature of the “credit” that Jesus talks about? What is the “reward” he mentions? I knew that it was not some point system for heavenly benefits in the next life. What does it mean for us here and now?
An atmosphere of liveliness
My wife Elisabeth and I have experience making loans that we did not expect to recover. I think of two of these money experiments in particular:
For some years we had made donations to support the reconciliation work of our friend the Rev. Philbert Kalisa and his organization, REACH-Rwanda. Then came a time when the organization sought help for constructing a conference center in Kigali that would yield a revenue stream to sustain the work of the organization. Local commercial loans were prohibitively expensive. We worked through our Donor Advised Fund to make a low-interest unsecured loan of $500,000. Since making that loan, not only have I danced in the halls and enjoyed the hospitality of that Center, but I have watched as miraculously REACH not only survived a strict pandemic shutdown but used the asset of the Center to relaunch itself with new vigor at the provincial level post-pandemic. The loan is on track to be fully repaid to our DAF.
L to R: Steven Bonsey, a REACH member, and Philbert in Kigali.
Another occasion involved our DAF in a different way. We made a loan to a friend and partner in the work to allow them to purchase a home that not only would shelter their “beloveds” but also as a base for their healing practice and their hospitality. We understood among ourselves, with a trusted witness, that the loan would be repaid not to us personally but to our DAF, to flow forward from there. In the time since the loan, Elisabeth and I have enjoyed our partner’s hospitality and watched with delight, not only as their family and their healing practice thrived in the home, but as our partner now engages in the flowing-forward of funds in ways that we could not have imagined.
Wisdom & Money speaks of “moments of sacred exchange” in which “the distinctions between giver and receiver collapse and all are brought together in the mystery of grace.” When I participate in moving money in the flow of Spirit, I feel like I am receiving something, becoming wealthier in some way, even if money is flowing out the door.
What is it that I receive when I give in the flow of Spirit? I think of one answer to the mystery of that “credit.” The word in Greek is charis, and it could also be translated as grace or favor. Charis is the quality we associate with Divine love and action, but here Jesus applies the word to our human actions: we, like God, generate Grace and Favor when we act – even with our money –from love. There is a joy and a life-force that is released.
It seems to me that Jesus wants us to use our financial wealth in ways that not only may relieve suffering in the world, but also in a way that will release Joy and generate Grace and Favor among us. To live in such an atmosphere of liveliness – that is our “reward.”
When have you recently given without expecting something in return? What liveliness did that gift welcome you into? Please feel free to leave a comment below to let us know.