Your health is your wealth – but of which ‘health’ do we speak?

Common proverbs, such as, “your health is your wealth” often contain a nugget of wisdom from which we can still learn, and equating health with wealth has a reassuring ring to it.

This idea challenges a narrow or literal understanding of wealth, defined as possession of money, or property of various kinds. The proverb surely suggests that we can be wealthy in other important respects, ones which may even put the narrow definition in the shade?

Having a huge bank account is of little help if one is suffering chronic pain or having an incurable, or terminal illness. And such maladies pay no attention to class distinctions; rich and poor alike are vulnerable to random illnesses and ailments, before we even consider the ultimate spectre of “Sister Death.

Being in good health shares in the benefits that we often associate with a state of wealth. The healthy person can experience comfort, security, and pleasure in that state of physical and mental balance or equilibrium. Likewise, we can claim that loving relationships make life rich along the lines of the famous words of the song, “Money can’t buy you love!

I believe that this close link between health and wealth extends quite naturally to the realm of spirituality. As believers, can we not say quite logically that our spiritual health is our spiritual wealth?

Recent passages in the scriptures at Mass suggest that the sacred writers had something like this equation in mind, often challenging people obsessed with money and possessions to think again about the means to achieve spiritual wealth.

Consider, for example, the story of the man who runs up to Jesus, full of enthusiasm, asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). Clearly this man has health and wealth but is looking for more, and “eternal life” sounds very like what I have been calling “spiritual health / wealth.

Jesus challenges him to go beyond obedience to the commandments, to sacrificing all his wealth. And the language of Jesus is significant, as he speaks of the man “having treasure in heaven” (v.21) if he is willing to sacrifice his treasure on earth while following Jesus and trusting in God’s providence.

The heavenly health / wealth can only be “inherited” by the development of spiritual health on earth and by practising sacrificial love for others here in this life. Alms-giving and other good deeds are the way of spiritual health leading to spiritual wealth, beginning already here and now, which after all is already a dimension of eternity.

Moving on to another teaching on this intimate link between health and wealth is the story of the Cleansing of the Temple as recorded in the Gospel of Mark (11:15-17).

The negative aspect of wealth is stressed initially in the fact of business being carried out in the Temple itself, symbolised by the money changers (v.15). What ought to be a house of prayer, a means of spiritual health, especially for foreign visitors who are only allowed this far into the Temple, has become a “den of thieves” (v.17).

Commerce in the wrong place clashes with the higher value of spiritual health, thus depriving the “pray-ers” of the spiritual wealth God wants them to have.

And Jesus overturns the tables, leaving no one in doubt as to his position on where the real wealth and health lies.

In each of these stories, the message is coming through loud and clear that higher values are being sacrificed for lower ones. For the rich man, even if his wealth is honestly got, it is still an obstacle to his finding the real treasure of following Christ and inheriting the life he is actually looking for but can’t bring himself to grasp out of fear of insecurity.

In the temple story, there is a sin of commission rather than omission, in the activity of traders who are profaning sacred space and making it almost impossible for spiritual seekers to experience the treasure of God’s loving presence in his own “house.”

Finally, let us turn our attention to the controversy in the story involving Jesus and the priests over the paying of taxes to the Roman occupiers, in which the Lord surprises his challengers with the words: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12: 17).

In this discussion we have, what some experts call, an acted-out parable, when Our Lord asks for a Roman coin from his opponents (v.16). He points out to them the image on the coin and the words imprinted on it.

It is the image of the current emperor, Tiberias, and the words tell of his identity as the “Son of the divine Augustus.” In other words, the coin claims that its owner is a Son of a God, since Roman emperors were being given divine status around this time.

On the other side of the coin, one finds the title “High Priest.” What an irony lies in this encounter around a simple coin! Jesus, the true Son of God, the authentic High Priest, is looking down on this sacrilegious claim on the part of an ordinary man, whose corrupt power will soon pass away.

The coin is a symbol of Roman power, economic, political, and religious. In effect, what Jesus says is: “If it has his image on it, give it back to him but think what you owe to God who is infinitely greater than any human autocrat.

If the kingdoms of this world express their power through currency with their specific images on their coins and notes (think of the pound coin or notes of the UK, with the image of the queen and king) then where is God’s currency; who is the King of Kings and Lord of all?

The answer is simply, Jesus, who is the image of God (Colossians 1:15), the “spitting image” of the Father, sharing his loving nature and proclaimed Lord. Jesus is God’s treasure shared with the entire world, the one truly international currency of love and mercy crossing all frontiers. This same Jesus has come to give his life as a ransom for many, to pay the price of our faults and to reconcile us to God (Mt.20:28).

Now, human beings are said to be made in the image of God (Gen.1:27). Each person is created on the model of the humanity of Jesus from eternity. We are, of course, poorer images of God than Jesus, though the saints are there to encourage us to work on our image, by following in the footprints of the Messiah.

This is a nice way of speaking about human value or dignity, for each of us is God’s currency, carrying the image of Our King in our hearts.

Such a reality remains a constant ethical challenge to respect our neighbour. It reveals the depth of evil that is happy to sell people into slavery and to traffic people on the basis of false promises.

It makes talk of killing innocent civilians in Gaza and elsewhere as “collateral damage” a way of covering up murder and even possibly, genocide! It highlights the heart-breaking reality of the betrayal of Jesus by his friend Judas for a measly thirty pieces of silver (Mt.26:15)!

Yes, Jesus takes that coin and proclaims a vital message that spiritual health and wealth cannot be found in mere human institutions, symbolised by the power of money, but requires a divine revelation that points to a treasure hidden in the earthen vessels of humanity (2 Cor.4:7) called to become more and more like Jesus, the perfect image of God, by following in his footsteps, powered by grace.

Kieran Cronin OFM