What would Jesus do about GameStop, Reddit and Wall Street?

Last Thursday, my brother-in-law tried explaining to me why there were so many headlines about some company called GameStop and its share price going ballistic. Scratch that. Hyper-ballistic.

My brother-in-law works in finance. I do not. He did a commendable job of simplifying the seismic force generated by an online forum of everyday traders (WallStreetBets on Reddit) that banded together to go after the “short” stock of one hedge fund. I tried to keep up.

Since then, trading app RobinHood has been involved in a big way (Wall Street is trying to work out what hit it and how to insulate against it), and “David versus Goliath” comparisons get tossed about.

As my mind still attempts to process financial terms I’ve barely considered before – this whole “shorting” thing befuddles me – there’s another transaction emerging from the #GameStop explosion.

(Eternity editor steps in: “Shorting” a stock means betting the share price will fall. Often large institutional investors called “hedge funds” will make a bet by “shorting” a stock. This means borrowing shares in company XYZ from another shareholder, then selling them on the assumption that as the share price will fall, you then can buy shares in XYZ cheaper by the time you need to replace the shares – and you pocket the difference. What happened with GameStop is that large numbers of small day traders have driven the share price up – so hedge funds lost their bets, big time.)

What does this stock shake-up reveal about greed? And not just greed at the top end of town, but those jumping on the profitable bandwagon of GameStop’s inflated worth.

GameStop investor and Californian pastor Justin Speak told MSNBC that his involvement with the Reddit rush was partly motivated by “sticking it” to Wall Street.

“I would be lying to say there wasn’t some pleasure … like I’m a pastor, and Jesus tells a story about this rich fool who has an overabundant harvest that’s more than he can store,” said Speak to MSNBC‘s Hallie Jackson, referring to the parable in Luke 12:13-21.

“Rather than giving the excess to those in need, he chooses to build bigger and bigger barns to store up for himself. And God says to him in the end ‘this very night your life will be demanded from you, and who will get what you prepared for yourself?'”

Speak points back to the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 and claims that, since then, “Wall Street has had an overabundant harvest.

“And rather than share the billions with the less fortunate, they’ve built bigger and bigger barns for themselves.”

Speak thinks the GameStop situation instantly forced established financial institutions and businesses to consider “who is going to get what they had prepared for themselves.”

The link between Jesus’ parable and the stock market turmoil is appealing. The collapse of vast wealth seems to fit the warning Jesus gave to the 1st century crowd he was addressing.

But, as Michael J Rhodes notes at Christianity Today, the parable was a response to a presumably poor man who asked Jesus to “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me”.

“When we wield the parable of the rich fool as a weapon against the super-rich, we risk missing the way Jesus offered it as a challenge to folks like us,” writes Rhodes.

“It [was a] primarily poor audience that Jesus warns about the need to ‘guard themselves against all kinds of greed’.

“Jesus’ anti-greed parable wasn’t only a warning for the super-rich. It was also a warning about the kind of financial insatiability that Jesus believed even the poor could get caught up in.”

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)

While Rhodes skates over the fact that the man asking the question evidently was in line for a windfall (impacting his presumed “poor” status), he and Speak also sell short the scope of Jesus’ divine advice.

Part of Jesus’ initial response to the man was: “Watch out and be on guard against all greed, because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions” (verse 15).

According to Jesus, having lots of stuff is not what life is about. What it is about is being rich towards God, as Jesus describes during the parable’s punchline (verse 21).

This punchline reveals a shorthand way to describe what it is to be “rich towards God” – do not store up treasure on earth. But in the broader conversation he has with the crowd in Luke 12, Jesus moves beyond money and indicates other things we can do to lower the value of God in our lives.

Before the man’s inheritance demand, Jesus told the assembled crowd not to be hypocrites like some of the religious leaders (12:1-3). Before and after the rich man parable, Jesus also encouraged the crowd to trust in God’s provision of what they need, through seeking after the kingdom of God (4-7; 22-31).

The importance of God, his Son (verses 8-10) and their kingdom goes beyond the warning about greed. It’s a challenge to recognise the priceless worth of God and reorient every facet of our lives accordingly.

No matter if we are poor, rich or making bazillions off GameStop, the call to question the cost of our motivations is for all. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)

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