Treasure – Part 1

My last two posts were titled respectively “Time” and “Talent.”  Today we work on the third T, the third leg of the stewardship stool, treasure.

I saved treasure for last because I didn’t want to upset the natural order of things.  I could have chosen to present them in reverse order – treasure, talent, time – but that just feels so wrong when I think it or say it.  But I also saved “treasure” for last because it is the most emotionally charged of the three Ts and is certainly the most complicated of the three.  A good friend of mine once told me that complex questions require complex answers, and, while not a question. “treasure” is nonetheless a complex item and requires a more complex analysis.

That means that we won’t finish it today.  Over the course of this column and the next two, look for more food for thought on this subject. Even then, we will only scratch the surface of treasure with respect to its place within stewardship.

First, let’s not use euphemisms where truth is clear.  When we refer to “treasure” here, we are talking about money.  And, lest you think you are being duped into someone – yours truly – setting you up for an “ask” at the end of this, don’t worry.  That is not going to happen.

I have spent most of my working life dealing with money.  Not just earning wages for producing something, but being in the middle of the exchange of money. In the investment business, I advised my clients to take their money and invest it to meet their needs.  In my work of stewardship and development in the Church, I match the works of the Church with the people of God.  Being in the middle of these relationships for more than three decades has given me a unique perspective on money, seeing how it affects people as they earn it, save it, spend it, and give it away.

I have worked with people who were wealthy and viewed money not just as a means to accumulate more worldly goods but as a method of keeping score.  They would measure themselves against their peers, basing their value as human beings in terms of their net worth measured against the other members of their group.  If they bought another house, another car, or another business, it was never because they needed it for sustenance. It was about how much they have compared to others.

The problem with that, gaining a sense of superiority over others based on possessions and account balances, is that, unless you are Jeff Bezos, there is always going to be somebody richer than you.  That is one of the factors that drives people to work harder to accumulate more so they can keep up, but not take so many chances that they would lose what they already have.

That’s the first item to really understand about money and our relationship with it, i.e. it has an emotional chokehold on us of which is extraordinarily powerful.  We find that our emotions can drive us to do things to make money that, if we were looking at it from an outside and objective viewpoint, we would never consider doing.  Not dishonest things, but working longer hours, sacrificing time with family, compromising our health, and causing distractions in our lives that affect our relationships with God and those closest to us.  We are willing to engage in those harmful and illogical behaviors because we believe the trade-off of greater wealth is worth the price.

Next up – Treasure, part II

This statue is of St. Matthew from St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome. Note that he is standing on a bag of money, as he was a tax collector and a wealthy man before Jesus chose him to be an Apostle.

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