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Money and Care

We will emerge from the revolution in health care generated by Covid by paying better for the care itself and by learning again to bend over the victims, because we are still able to feel being moved in our guts when facing the world's pain.

by Luigino Bruni

published in Il Messaggero di Sant'Antonio in April 2021

The Bible could also be told through its coins. Beginning with the three hundred shekels of silver paid by Abraham to buy the tomb for his wife Sarah from the Hittites, the first monetary contract recorded in the Bible (Gen 23). Also in the book of Genesis, the word profit (bècà), borrowed from the commercial lexicon of the time, appears in the episode of the sale of Joseph by his brothers: "What profit is it if we kill our brother?" Gen 37,26). So, after they had cast him in the pit, the brothers gave heed to Judah, "sold him ... for twenty shekels of silver' (37,28) to the merchants travelling through those parts on their way to Egypt.

Brothers selling a brother, and merchants buying him. The profit of the merchants immediately enters into conflict with the value of fraternity. Twenty shekels was the price of a slave or a pair of sandals (Amos), twenty times less than Abraham's four hundred shekels. This paltry sum paid for a brother says disdain for life and fraternity. Joseph, later (ch. 37), will give his younger brother Benjamin 300 shekels, twelve times more than the price paid at his sale, a gift that exceeds twelve times the profit. This entering of profit into the Bible is enough to understand the origin of the ambivalence of money in biblical humanism. Christianity has taken up and further developed this ambivalence, starting from the Gospels themselves, where coins abound: they are present in decisive texts, from the lost drachma to the workman of the last hour, not to mention debts and debtors even present in the Paternoster.

Jesus expels the money changers from the temple of Jerusalem, puts the religion of money ("mammon") as an alternative to his own; but then Luke tells us a parable, that of the talents - considered, by the way, among the few probably narrated by the historical Jesus -, where the logic of the Kingdom of Heaven is entrusted to two "procurers" praised because they had invested the money received, while the third is reproached for having been lazy and stingy. But the most famous dinars in the Christian Bible are undoubtedly the thirty silvers of Judas. John's gospel shows us Judas rebuking the woman of Bethany who had wasted oil on Jesus: "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (12,5). Telling us that Judas, besides being a traitor, was also a bad merchant, for having sold out the Christ, who was of immense value, for just a few coins.

But the presence of money in the Gospel does not end there. There are also the two dinars that the good Samaritan pays to the innkeeper, adding that beautiful phrase: "Take care of him" (Lk 10,35). These two coins paid for the care tell us many things. The Samaritan could have invoked his own gratuitousness also for the innkeeper, but he does not do so: he pays him, and thus recognises the value of the work of care. So paying a price can be a good tool for care. It is not only the free gift that is the good language of care. At the same time, the contract with the innkeeper is fully Christian and human if it is preceded by the different and gratuitous care of the Samaritan, taking care of the victim who ran into the robbers because of being “moved in his guts”. Today there is no shortage of payment for care and treatment, but the payment is always too little, because it is not socially valued. We will emerge from the revolution in health care generated by Covid by paying better for the care itself (and therefore paying better the women, who are often the ones dedicated to it) and by learning again to bend over the victims, because we are still able to feel being moved in our guts when facing the world's pain.

Photo credits: © Giuliano Dinon / MSA Archive

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