“When buying or selling you can hardly avoid sin. So, in either case, be sure you lose a little in the transaction.” – Evagrios the Solitary, On Asceticism and Stillness –
My wife and I are in the process of buying a house. We have been blessed with the ability to do so, and are quite thankful. Yet the magnitude of the purchase has made me pause and reflect on the presence on sin in our dealing with money. Making such a large purchase seems contrary to the perspective Evagrios and other monks from the Philokalia take on material possessions. Money is not inherently evil; it is the love of money that is the root of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). So too with possessions: material goods are not evil, but attachment to them is. And ever the idol-makers, our hearts rarely live in genuine detachment toward our possessions. We all need shelter, and owning a home may be “wise financial stewardship”, but woe to us when the house becomes our idol.
So how do we guard against such idolatry?
To deliberately seek to “lose a little in the transaction” is countercultural. It’s a bit like saying: Don’t buy what’s on sale. Tip 50%. Offer more than the asking price. I’m reminded of a poem by Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, and its advice: “So, friends, every day do something / that won’t compute. Love the Lord. / Love the world. Work for nothing. / Take all that you have and be poor.”
Lose a little in the transaction. Take all you have and be poor.
We didn’t offer more than the asking price. But the words of Jesus have been ringing in my head: “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Moth and rust (and rain and snow) will destroy parts of this house, no matter how well we care for it. Robbers could come at any time. But that should be of no worry to me, for my security rests in Christ. If the transaction falls through at the last minute, my heart should be able to say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” and bless God’s name.
Yet detachment from possessions isn’t only about my interior spiritual health. Evagrios continues from the quote at the top of this post saying, “Do not haggle about the price from love of gain, and so indulge in actions harmful to the soul – quarrelling, lying, shifting your ground and so on – thus bringing our way of life into disrepute.” Evagrios is concerned that the way in which monks like himself engage in business with the world is a matter of witness.
Does the way we buy and sell communicate to the world that we’re followers of Jesus? If a non-Christian looked at my bank statement, would it bring our way of life into disrepute? Will visitors to our house see simplicity and harmony with God’s creation, or accumulation and indulgence?
In New Testament terms, those seeking the Kingdom of God live as aliens in this world. We should look different. Living that life will cost us more, leave us with less, and take a lot more effort. But where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.
God grant us the faith to take all we have and be poor and the grace to lose a little in the transaction.