Currency is hugely important and not just for economic reasons. Jesus could see this as he challenged his Pharisee opponents to produce a denarius. “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” He was opening a whole can of worms of Roman occupation – and they knew it.
Which takes us straight into the euro controversy, which has been dominating the news over the last few weeks. We have had the European Central Bank’s seismic decision to start printing euros and then a crucial shift in Greece as the radical left party Syriza is voted into office.
You may not have noticed but this Wednesday the Governor of the Bank of England, the Canadian Mark Carney, speaking in Dublin, offered a very clear and comprehensive analysis of the crisis facing the eurozone.
Essentially what he was saying is that you can’t have your cake and eat it. The German equivalent, I understand from Wikipedia, is “Wasch mir den Pelz, aber mach mich nicht nass” which apparently translates as “Wash my fur but don’t get me wet.” (I just copy and paste).
What Carney was saying is that the German electorate needs to start washing their fur. “European monetary union will not be complete until it builds mechanisms to share fiscal sovereignty,” he concluded. In other words it is in the interests of the German taxpayer to pay for the debts of southern Europe. Then everyone will be happy – except they won’t’.
For, he concluded – somewhat wistfully, “Europe’s leaders do not currently foresee fiscal union as part of monetary union. Such timidity has costs.”
Their dilemma is elegantly summed up by Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.”
And that is the dilemma facing every elected politician.
We are now in the run up to the General Election on 5 May, less than 100 days to go. By all accounts huge decisions are to be made during the next Parliament, not least the size of the public deficit – the difference between what the government spends and receives. This impinges on everything else – including spending on the NHS.
We are doing better than the eurozone, including Germany, on most measures of the economy. But not on the public finances, where we have a major problem.
And, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK’s stock of debt will keep on rising for a number of years. So if anyone tries to tell you that UK debt is falling, they are wrong.
It’s the elephant in the room – but our politicians are speaking as if it isn’t there. The dilemma facing them is that if they tell the truth about what they will have to do, they won’t’ be elected.
It was Winston Churchill who observed from bitter experience that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
The challenge for us as voters is to simply realize that the right way forward is going to be difficult. That understanding should come naturally to any follower of Jesus. Moreover, we realize that we have an obligation to love our neighbour, even if it hurts.
So the apostle Paul urges us “Do not look to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:4). He sees this as in the very DNA of discipleship.
But it doesn’t come naturally as I hold on to my bus pass and winter heating allowance. To refer once again to Juncker, I may know what should be done for the nation but I have no intention of voting for the party who will do it because it will affect me personally.
But it was Churchill, whose funeral was just 50 years ago, who promised a dejected people “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” No easy option there.
So as the political debate starts to heat up, Christians – both those seeking office and those who are voters – need to be yeast, to be salt. We need to show that politics is the pursuit of the common good rather than what’s in it for me.
It was possibly the greatest theologian of all time, Augustine of Hippo, who asked the question “Is human wellbeing found in the good of the whole society, the common good?” His emphatic answer is Yes.
But there again, he wasn’t running for office!