Wealth and Culture

Wealth and Culture

How do the worldviews of the predominant cultural atmosphere we find ourselves in shape our views on wealth and material possessions? Perhaps more importantly, how do these worldviews influence how we read and respond to scripture, and specifically Jesus’ teaching on wealth, poverty, abundance, and what it is to “be blessed”? I agree with Siu Fung Wu in this article, Wealth and Culture, that Christians with a Western worldview, with its individualistic and guilt-based culture, often concern themselves with questions of rights, justifications of self and assuage of guilt in interacting with Jesus’ teachings in Luke 6:20-26. It seems that often, “our main theological concern tends to be about ensuring that the ownership of material possession is valid. Also, given our guilt-based culture, we naturally want to make sure that we are not guilty of possessing money. In other words, when we come to the Scriptures that speak negatively about material possession, we feel that we need to respond by saying that wealth is not sinful and that the principle behind the Bible’s teaching is concerning the right use of wealth rather than the ownership of it.”

When I read this passage I too feel that its main attention is not on the rightfulness or wrongfulness of individuals to be wealthy, but rather a concern for the well-being of the community. The problem presented and addressed “is the coexistence of the rich and the impoverished in the society, where the wealthy are well fed but the poor are hungry.” Jesus’ teaching overturns not only the current lenses and worldviews with which we interact with these words, but also the prevailing value system and cultural climate in which those words were addressed. He reaches through the shame-based worldview and affirms the value and dignity of the poor, honoring them as valuable members of the society.

Jesus then “overturns the prevailing social convention—both then and now—and implicitly calls for his audience to participate in an alternative communal life that God intends for humanity.” Here’s to shaking off our cloaks of shame and guilt that we wear when we interact with resources, money, material possessions, wealth and poverty.

 

Valerie Anderson

Valerie Anderson coordinates Operations at Common Change. She received her MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Cape Town and has spent the last 6 years establishing and maintaining a range of community development projects both in her home country, South Africa, and in low-income urban areas in the United States. She is a writer, problem-solver and strategist and loves to create environments in which others can thrive. Valerie and her husband, Brett Fish, have recently returned to their beautiful home city, Cape Town. You can find more of Val’s writing at valanderson.wordpress.com

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