“What’s yours is mine and what’s mine’s my own.”
This is a model that I was offered when we were married: the opportunity to give everything away to my partner, who would happily receive it. But she knew my resources were zilch, and I wasn’t much of a catch!
1. Sharing in response to Jesus
John’s gospel has two compelling stories about giving/sharing linked to Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. In the first of these (John 12), John describes a visit to the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, six days before the Passover. Here is the drama in a nutshell. Mary lavishes on Jesus a huge display of devotion in an extravagant and moving act. She cares nothing for etiquette or monetary value. She shares this all for Jesus. Judas, on the other hand, had a much more nitty-gritty response. John gave Judas a dark motive for his criticism here and for his betrayal of Jesus: the love of money, or Mammon. John expresses Jesus’ response as vindicating Mary completely, and also pointed towards his death and burial.
Justin Welby expresses the difference in their responses to Jesus in this way:
Judas sees people and objects in material terms according to their monetary value, whereas Mary sees people and objects as precious gifts of God.
In John 19, we read the actions of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion. Both were followers but rather in secret. Joseph makes his great in-kind sharing of resources – his own tomb; Nicodemus provides costly perfumes and spices with which they embalmed the body. This was, to say the least, not normal. Crucifixion was an instrument of state terror; to deter resistance and revolt bodies were left to the mercies of crows, dogs and other carnivores. To intervene in this was not only an act of devotion, but interceding on behalf of a man executed for rebellion – “King of the Jews” – would put Joseph at considerable risk. Nicodemus was also jeopardising his safety by this act of kindness. Sharing resources can be seen as a threat by those enjoying the status quo, those enjoying Mammon. It is still true that acting in a caring way can lead further than we expect. Here are the words of Helder Camara, who was Archbishop in Brazil during the period of military dictatorships.
When I feed the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.
The responses of Mary, Joseph and Nicodemus along the “What’s mine” line, is to act as if the donated materials were not theirs to own, but they were using gifts that have come from God. These were stewarded and then passed on when needed.
2. Sharing in the the earliest churches
The messages in 2 Corinthians were written a little over 20 years later, probably about 56 AD. Nero had become Emperor in 54 AD, at the age of 16. There was a period of deflation. The fledgeling church in Jerusalem was finding things tough and Paul trying to raise funds to give them aid.
Paul praises the church in Philippi for their generosity when things were difficult for them. Corinth was an important trading gateway and Paul doesn’t think that sharing is yet one of their virtues, feeling they were in a better place to afford it. They had started well, but then it petered out:
But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)
Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.
2 Corinthians 8:10,11 (NIV)
Paul summarises his target in an interesting summary, considering Helder Camara’s quotation:
“ .. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”
2 Corinthians 8:14,15 (NIV)
3. How should we share?
The Habits of the Early Church in sharing resources give us reason to pause for thought. Here are three reasons that Justin Welby provides for us in “Dethroning Mammon”.
Firstly, he characterises the effects of Mammon, a personification of the cherishing of things of conventional value.
Mammon tells us to hold on to things – to family, to home, to career – and in so doing, takes the gifts of God which these things are, and twists them into chains that hold us in slavery before Mammon’s throne. (p. 79)
The authentically good things in life: family, home and a career, do come with risk. They can become an obsession and that is a distortion of their true value.
Secondly, we inevitably think about the need to keep things afloat – perhaps a bit like Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield. If we become stultified over the balance of receipts and rewards, as individuals or as church, we can be too risk averse. The question is how do we use the abundance coming from God with generosity? Consideration is needed to assess priorities and plan a venture, but this should be in a spirit of imaginative generosity.
… we do not identify things that make for peace, but work on the calculation of risk and return, rather than abundance and generosity. (p. 52)
Finally, Mary, Joseph and Nicodemus didn’t just make a small tweak to what they were doing. They didn’t just add a couple of percent to their giving. Rather they had a different view and responded lovingly to God’s grace to them.
Jesus does not ask for an improvement in attitude, but for an entirely new world view, based on his grace and sufficient love. (p. 63)
If we return to “What’s mine” – we can rewrite this with capital letters showing that what we have is something from God that we steward for a while.
What’s Yours is ours and what’s mine is Yours.
As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9 (8):
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8