I drove my Peugeot car, wearing an outfit made up entirely of items bought from different shops. I roll up my sleeves to show a couple of tattoos I have. One inscribed on me in Manchester and another in Jerusalem. I am travelling through my town to enter my favourite coffee shop. Some of my friends are here and I start my day by having a coffee, a coffee grown in Ethiopia and roasted in Bolton. After about thirty minutes, I fire up my laptop, made no doubt made in another country and connect to the internet to begin writing.
We often like to think of ourselves as fiercely independent and often aim to be financially secure in such a way that we do not have to depend on others. Yet, our lives are dependent on a thousand elements given by others, made by others, and imported from somewhere else. We are connected to one another, and to the systems that form us in ways we probably will never even notice. In this present era, our lives are tentatively threaded together by this abstract thing we often call the economy. And the economy is like a present force, much like gravity, but far less predictable. The economy is something that grows, shrinks, collapses, and feeds off the consumption habits of a given society. The economy is present in our political, social, and even religious discourse. (If you don’t believe me, attend any church, and see if you can make it through a service without there being a tithes and offerings segment at some point). But we often imagine the economy as an abstract, ethereal being that we don’t understand. We treat economists as priests because they have a more intimate knowledge of this being they act as the mediators of its needs and desires to politicians and the general public.
But of course, the economy is not a force, it is not a being. It is not a god. Instead, the economy is the result of complex networks of relationships between people. It is the result of a process of creation, distribution, consumption, and re-creation. This means that when we are talking about economics or business, we are always talking about something formed through and for real human relationships. In my view, any kind of economic crisis, such as the cost-of-living crisis that we are all currently impacted by, is in some way a relational crisis. Which places it well within the scope of theological reflection.
This understanding of the economy as relationship is not anew idea, but an ancient one. Well established within the Torah and the prophets is the belief that the righteousness of God’s people is in part revealed in the way they distribute their goods and wealth. For this reason,Jesus talks more about money than any other topic. For example, as an experiment, I quite literally flicked open my bible (which, for the record, was printed and bound in Italy), to the gospel of Luke at a random page. I was seeing if the random page I chose had something to do with money on it: it did.I opened it at Luke 21, as Jesus gives his thoughts about a poor widow giving everything she had into the temple offering, while the rich flaunted the large amounts of money they were giving because they had plenty of it to give. Jesus is deeply concerned with money, because at its heart, the economy is about relationships.
In Ephesians 2 Paul makes clear that the Christian gospel is not simply about our relationship with God, but about our relationships with one another. Speaking about the relationships between Jews and non-Jews (like me), he writes:
He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…his purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace. (Ephesians 2:14-15)
The point I want to make is this: If God’s work in Christ was to reconcile all people to one another and form a new humanity in relationship, and the economy is the result of relationships, the gospel of grace concerns how we relate to one another economically. What all this means is that we must be continually thinking about how we are spending, investing, creating, distributing, and re-creating. We must continually evaluate as a community how this contributes to the reconciling work of God in Jesus.