How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. – I John 3:17-18
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. – James 2:15-17
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. – Acts 2:44-45
Perhaps the most important mark of Christian discipleship is what we do with our economic resources. For the early church, following the way of Jesus was intimately related to responding compassionately and generously to people in need. From the Torah and the Hebrew prophets, through Jesus’ teaching and practice, and into the writings of the early Church, there is a clear pattern linking biblical faith to economic justice.
Thus, there is nothing new about the emphasis the new monastic movement places on “Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us” as a vital mark of mission. This practice is as old as biblical faith itself. What sets the new monastics apart is their recovery of this emphasis as a communal, rather than an individual, practice.
For the early church, generosity was a mark of the community as a whole, in which possessions and goods were shared and distributed according to the need (not the worth or productivity) of the recipients. It was only later, as the church became more institutionalized, that generosity became a more individual action.
The Church transitioned from being a model of egalitarian community that practiced social and economic justice, to being an agency of charity for the wealthy to give to the needy without transforming the basic underlying social relationships. There were exceptions to this trend, such as the monastic orders and the Anabaptist wing of the Protestant Reformation, but these were minority witnesses.
The new monastics invite sharing resources with one another in ways that are creative of community: not as acts of individual charity, but as ways to nurture the common good. The form of sharing is less important than the act of sharing itself: fostering gratitude, generosity, simplicity, sustainability, community and justice. The new monastic communities have evolved certain principles for sharing economic resources as guidelines.
1) Shift from “Ownership” to “Stewardship” – everything belongs to God and is entrusted to us for a time for the sake of the common good. How then do we share more fully what we have and need? Some examples include creating community gardens, sharing tools (does everyone really need their own lawn mower?), car sharing services, and exchanging childcare. Think about it for a moment: we already pool resources to share a priest. How else might we expand upon that model?
2) Shift from “Brokerage” to “Mutuality” – too often the Church can become a place for rich people to drop stuff off for poor people to pick-up, without any real interaction, much less mutual vulnerability. St. Martin de Porres’ Hospitality House (which is itself a new monastic community) is a good example of moving beyond brokerage; as are microloan programs like Mothers Helping Mothers, though at more of a distance. St. Gregory’s Food Pantry, in which recipients also volunteer to operate the pantry, is another example of finding ways to move beyond “us” helping “them” to all of us sharing in our need and our gifts.
3) Shift from “Accumulation” to “Redistribution” - Shane Claiborne notes that redistribution of wealth is not a prescription for society that must be mandated; it is a description of society when people discover what it means to love. It is as simple is clearing out the closets once per year and donating what you don’t wear anymore. It is as complex as finding ways to make health care available to everyone. The practice flows from the recognition of what is “enough,” and what is “excess” to be shared with those who do not have enough.
The practice of sharing in this way is not a moralistic burden, but rather an opportunity to discover joy and freedom in our common life. It moves us from isolation to connection. It makes life possible and love tangible. It is an invitation to follow Jesus and discover Christ in one another.