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Posted on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 : 5 a.m.

The gift: What do you give away?

By Wayne Baker


Religious teachings on wealth tend to question what the rich have accumulated. Here is Rembrandt’s famous painting of “Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple,” 1626.

Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: I hope you have been enjoying our summer series by guest writers. We began in June with Joe Grimm on America’s growing need for “Cultural Competence.” Our most recent series was by Terry Gallagher on “Second Acts” in American lives. Here is Part 1 in a new series by Terry:

That money that you give away? Is it really yours in the first place?

In a series in this space in 2010, Wayne Baker focused on some very interesting questions about the morality of giving, including a look at the charitable motivations of the richest man in American history, John D. Rockefeller, who believed that God made him rich so that he could give his money away “for the good of my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience.”

But was that money really his to give away?

We hear a slightly different take on wealth from Thomas Gumbleton, the Roman Catholic bishop from Detroit. In a recent homily on the passage from the Book of Luke about the man whose barns were overflowing, “a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest,” Gumbleton emphasized that it was the land that produced the harvest.

“Sure, he had to do something to work that land, but the land was in itself a gift,” Gumbleton said. “He had done nothing to provide that, nothing really to make the produce grow—that was God’s work. That’s a very important underlying truth that we need to get hold of: All of this world is not something we brought about; it’s a total gift from God.”

Certainly that’s not something only Catholics believe (and actually, many Catholics don’t believe it at all). Many other religious traditions tell us that the riches we have in this life are not really ours.

So what do you give away?

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