Money and Spirit - Two Diverging Ways
By Milton Schwantes
[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Amos online, http://www.amos-blaetter.de/m-schwantes/ms-Geld_und_Geist.html. Milton Schwantes is a pastor in Guarulhos, Sao Paulo, Brazil and professor of Old Testament at the Universidade Methodista de Sao Paulo.]
When Ezekiel looked on his people in exile at that time, they were like corpses, totally without spirit. His people were like a broad field full of dead bones (Ezekiel 37).
The masters of the world at that time dragged several thousands from Jerusalem to Babylon. There they were made slaves.
At the beginning there was great resistance. They dreamt of returning very soon (see Jeremiah 29). But from year to year, it was more desperate. Babylon expanded its power. New deportees or deported persons were dragged from Jerusalem to Babylon. Other peoples were subjugated.
The horizon narrowed more and more and became empty.
Under the pressure of their despair, many of the deportees accepted the new rulers. They turned away from Israel's traditions. They turned to Babylon's new idols, believed the victors and became a field of dead bones.
This happens when the armies rule or when money dominates the world. The bones of the dead block the horizons.
I experience this again today in the center of Sao Paulo. On the sidewalk, people hold signs: "We buy gold". "We" obviously doesn't mean the poorly educated emaciated persons of skin and bones who hold the signs. "We" mean the brokers who buy gold. In the center of Sao Paulo, one of the largest cities of this world, gold traders use the poorest to promote the gold trade. This is what Ezekiel meant when he spoke of fields full of dead bones. People are impoverished and made idle so the gold business flourishes!
However before the God of life, these scenes of impoverishment are places of awakening. The huts of the poor are also nests of resistance. Shattered bodies rebel. The spirit blows. The spirit creates and binds communities out of dead bones. "A mighty power" is resurrected out of despair.
This is Ezekiel's proclamation (Ez 37,10). The God of life enables "a great host" to arise out of the poor. This sounds like nonsense! Hosts appearing out of dead bones are absurd. Leaving the dead bones alone would be more decent and sensible. If an army came out of them, we would stand before dead bones. Armies are producers of bones. A spirit that creates armies is nonsense. There can be no abundance of special emptiness!
Great power is emphasized in the Hebrew, not `great armies'! The spirit empowers. If we follow the Greek translation, we could also speak of `powerful synagogues' or `mighty assemblies'. But please no army. Armies and spears are only phenomenon of money. Without spirit, they are empty.
Kohelet the preacher helps us clarify our theme.
Kohelet says: "Whoever loves money will never have enough money" (5,10). Money and gold contain a spirit that drives and presses, threatens and narrows life so that nothing comes to rest any more. Gold drives because it demands love.
Love is central but not the love that moves and overcomes you when you throw your arms around your beloved, embrace, kiss and caress. You cannot love money.
Still your love impels you. You cannot enthusiastically fall in love with money. Who knows what will be tomorrow? How will the market appear tomorrow? For the love of money, there is no rest, not a second of rest either day or night.
With the love of money, everything becomes empty. That is the tragedy that Kohelet describes. In his wondrous book, he does not tire `preaching' that only meaninglessness and emptiness exist in the realm of wealth and money. The preacher decries the existence devoted to money and power. This existence collapses day after day. Don't trust this! Money sucks you dry, makes you empty and ruins you: a field of dead bones.
Ezekiel and Kohelet are testimonies about spirit and money, life and emptiness.