The Gift: What do you give away?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Gift
Rembrandt's famous painting of "Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple," 1626.

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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(Originally published at, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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  1. David Thompson says

    You are playing around with how long a “gift” is for? All gifts revert to earth or the Government or our institutions (Museums, Collections) EVENTUALLY. Even Rockefeller’s wealth is disbursed back into the economy at some point. The argument here is HOW LONG DO WE CONTROL IT? which is all J.D. wanted anyway; to control wealth. Do we get to gift beyond our lifetimes or does it stop at some point? I plan to leave a collection of my fossils to a University Museum, but even that will end someday. We have wills & trusts for the purpose of controlling gifts to heirs and keeping the Government at bay, but that only works for awhile (100 years or less). It also feeds our fantasy of being immortal somehow. Newton’s laws apply here as elsewhere.

  2. Debra Darvick says

    From the Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy 8:18
    Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to make wealth,
    in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers, as is still the
    case. The idea is that it is a partnership a two-way commitment; we are cautioned
    not to grow haughty and err in thinking that the good that comes to us is the result of our own
    hands. To us and through us, and thus are those in need helped.

  3. G. Ranft says

    “Actually, many Catholics don’t believe it at all.” Wow, what a snarky comment about Catholics. So, you have surveyed Catholics on this particular concept?