Thought for the Day - Rev Dr Michael Banner
Earlier this week the UN called for measures to bring an end to the unregulated mining of gold which takes place typically in remote regions of Africa, and is linked with child labour, with bribery and corruption. The BBC news on Monday night showed pictures from the Democratic Republic of Congo of mere boys grubbing around in mud and water to retrieve fragments of this most precious metal for this irregular and squalid trade.
It is a trade of course, which by a circuitous route, brings gold from the very margins of the Developing world, to the very heart of the Developed World. No matter that our economies have been transformed radically in the last 50 years, gold is still held as it traditionally has been, in vast amounts by the central banks of the United States, the United Kingdom and other leading economies. And even the brand new alchemy of investment banking, which zips credit default swaps and such like round the globe, does so by means of laptops and mobiles phones which rely on gold as a component and a conductor. However modern we have become, gold is still at the heart of our economies - and not only because gold has certain practical uses, but also because we accord it an iconic status and a fetish-like power.
Gold makes really just a single appearance in the Gospels, as one of the gifts brought to Jesus at his birth. The gift of gold caused a problem, however, for the great painters who depicted this very popular scene. I often sense that they are struggling to make the presents, and particularly this one, not too alluring, in case the gold eclipses the baby - for our eyes, like our hearts, are drawn to gold. And yet, of course, the point of this offering of gold to the baby is to provide a symbol of its proper place in human affairs – gold is properly given in worship, but not to be worshipped. Gold is what is owed to God, and that which is in the image of God, which is to say Christ and humankind. And yet, in all sorts of ways, we invert this order, so that we end up serving the gold which should serve us.
The misery and indignity involved in the mining of gold in the Developing World is certainly different in kind from the suffering which the service of gold inflicts in the Developed World, yet homelessness and hunger on the streets of Athens is an indignity and a misery for those who are facing it. Somehow this unruly metal, when it becomes our taskmaster, has its beginning and its ending in wretchedness. The message of those paintings is, I suspect, that gold will only be tamed and take its proper place as our servant when we learn to value and venerate what really deserves our devotion and so cease to worship money and markets.