One of the most important sections in the first letter to Timothy is usually remembered by the following line: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
This statement occurs in the context of Paul’s invitation for us to reflect on the ways in which the love of money distorts our judgments and priorities (see 1 Timothy 6:7-11).
A close reading of this passage suggests that, like today, in ancient times there were many people that assessed human worth according to the riches and possessions that one could accumulate.
This is the reason why some devoted their lives to pursue monetary gains in hopes of gaining esteem and prestige.
In the attempt, these individuals lost their faith and hauled condemnation. Paul advised his apprentice Timothy not to imitate those who adopted this way of life.
We usually conclude that this ideology is manifested only in those who would do anything to become rich.
However, I would like to expand our traditional conceptualization of “the love of money” problem. I believe the connotations of such ideology are more widespread than thought.
An expanded understanding of loving money entails a paradigm shift in our valuation criteria.
We love money not only when we pursue it indiscriminately, but also when we allow it to mold and shape our perceptions about human worth. Let me explain.
We love money instead of God when we are untroubled by the standards of living that our economic order assigns marginalized communities.
No matter what country we live in, it is always feasible to distinguish affluent areas from poor ones.
In places where wealthy individuals live, we always find good schools, quality hospitals, adequate housing and low pollution.
However, in poor areas it is exactly the opposite. Pollution is evident, schools are decrepit, there are no adequate medical services and housing is deplorable.
If these disparities in living conditions do not alarm us or trouble our consciences, then we are perpetuating the idea that human worth is proportional to individuals’ income.
From this standpoint, we are “loving money” not because we are infatuated with it, but because we are allowing it to usurp God’s notion of human dignity, which transcends socioeconomic status.
The “love of money” ideology penetrates our souls when we allow earthly economic systems to dictate our perceptions of human worth.
This is the intersection where earthly economic ideals collide with the priorities of God’s Kingdom.
Through his sacrificial death on the cross, Christ revealed the real price of each of our lives (see John 3:16, 1 John 2:2). Jesus paid the same price for all (see Hebrews 2:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-6, 4:10; Titus 2:11).
It is from this platform that we understand the theological implications of Paul’s message to Timothy: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11).
For Paul, it is not sufficient to “flee” from idolatrous perceptions of money. We also need to assume a remedial posture against ideologies that seek to assign monetary worth to our lives.
Despite the economic disparities in the Greco-Roman world, Paul presents “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” as an antidote to worldly notions of human value.
In the modern world, the essential services for proper human development (education, health, housing and public safety) are assigned by governmental budgets.
Unfortunately, this means that those who have more resources are able to lobby for better services.
Jesus responded to the economic disparities of his time by making the poor the axis of his ministry and even granting them the Kingdom of God (see Luke 6:20). The apostle Paul did the same by exhorting his apprentices to “flee” from earthly ideals and to pursue righteousness.
Therefore, our work with marginalized communities should consist of more than easing the negative impact of our economic policies. We must also strive to uphold the values ‹ ‹of the Kingdom through our active participation in all spheres of our society.
If Christ paid the same price for all, we are called to advocate for a more equitable future for all human beings, especially the poor.
In our efforts to provide better opportunities for the marginalized, we honor the unlimited sacrifice of Jesus Christ for all humanity.
Samuel Caraballo is a Latino minister who is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and the founder of All Abilities Inc., a ministerial initiative that promotes inclusion and full participation of individuals with disabilities in their respective faith communities. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Son of a Liberator, and is used with permission.