It is said that the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that he continually asked himself, “What is the myth that I am living?” Myths are so much more than stories. They are archetypal narratives that shape us. For centuries in India, the myth was that every person was born into a specific caste that determined their status in that society. The myth said that due diligence and compliance would be rewarded by rebirth into a higher caste in the next life.
In the West, there were similar myths that determined how life should be, and which, for centuries, held everything in place. But every now and then a new myth comes along. Initially it challenges the old myth, then subverts and finally replaces it as the dominant narrative. In Jesus’ time, the myth was that wealthy people were blessed by God to their positions of privilege. The poor were cursed with suffering according to the same logic. As in India, all was well as long as everyone lived the myth. But with every dominant myth, there are storytellers who discover alternate ways of looking at the world.
The psalmists, the writer of Lamentations, Paul, and supremely Jesus, discovered other ways to tell the story of life. These alternative myths (stories) took root and changed the world. Wealth needs to be shared. Work requires just and equitable share in its fruits. The strong have an obligation to care for the weak. This new myth birthed education, unionization, nationalized health programs, community projects, and for centuries the church stood at the heart of reform, telling the new story. Sadly, it is so no longer there. Sadly, the myths of dominance, control, and consumption have displaced the Christian story, and the church itself has forgotten how to tell the story of compassion care, integrity and justice.
Addressing some of this, Jesus said the rich man’s land in Luke 12 produced a great abundance. Though the man farmed the land through hard work, he did not do it alone. The land itself produced the abundance. Without land the farmer could do nothing. He couldn’t grow grain out his ears. The fertile soil existed long before humans walked on the earth and started thinking that we own everything. All that we possess is a gift from our creator that was made over centuries.
People can figure out how to drill oil far below the surface, but we cannot create oil. We can cut down forests for lumber and plant trees, but we can’t make trees. The very air that we breathe is a gift from another species. Without lots of trees and vegetation, we would suffocate. Everything we have and life itself is ultimately a gift, not a possession. We use the word stewardship to mean fund-raising, but it is a richer concept. Stewardship means that we are caretakers for God. We receive an abundance, but remember everything really belongs to God. Greed arises from the belief that we are the sole owner of all we have.
Add to this our approach to each other as human beings and how we share and care and wisely use what we have for the good of all. I read in an article this morning this quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said:
“Today, the fabric of communities and cities is under threat from gunmen and bombers with a total disregard for the rights of anyone else. Instead of asking how we may be contributing to turning back the immorality pandemic, we seek stealthier weapons, more draconian security solutions, and more economic prosperity for ourselves. In effect, instead of reconciling anything, we are unravelling the human family. We are closing our eyes to our commonality, to our common purpose and our common interest. We are disavowing the love and compassion with which we were born. We are subverting the fact that we are made for inter-dependence. Nobody is benefiting.
I wonder if this understanding of how, might change the way you and I think about money and possessions, if it all belongs to God? How do we view other people and the way we treat them? How does it change our budget? How are we called to live in a world with great poverty? How are we called to live in a world with wise stewardship and live inter-dependently?