It seems to me there is an increasing level of confusion on what Jesus thought about economics. This matters a lot because the claims being made on many sides of the current debate cut under the core message of the Gospel itself. In times like these, when everyone is rushing to say what Jesus thinks about capitalism, socialism, communism, Occupy Wall Street, taxes, government, etc. (even the Vatican has called for a Central World Bank), it’s vital we talk openly about these issues.
Some believe in Jesus the provider of riches. Scratch his back and He’ll scratch yours. Economic prosperity is God’s desire for everyone–we’re told by some. God doesn’t just want to provide for your needs. He wants you to have season tickets, a Bentley, and a vacation home.
Others believe Jesus is some sort of communist–or at least a socialist. More than anything, these people believe Jesus was about was economic equality…though there is hardly a statement made to suggest He felt that way in all the New Testament. He makes several statements about helping those in need–but one must rely on fairly fanciful interpretations of other passages to find those where Jesus commands or even strongly suggests economic equality as a biblical mandate–especially if it is executed by government–rather than by the Kingdom life of God’s people.
This isn’t to say God doesn’t bless people financially or that Jesus is a fan of economic inequality. It’s to say it seems we are a confused people on this subject right now at a time when society could use a clear voice on the subject. It seems to me that at this pivotal time in history, our politics more than our theology is coming through.
This series of posts isn’t intended to be a definitive voice but rather a discussion starter. These are some observations based on years of studying this subject. But, I’m not naive enough to believe I come to the subject bias free. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches a lot on money and possessions for a reason: God wants us to be faithful and avoid an idolatrous relationship with money–a potential affliction of both the rich, poor, and middle class.
So, let’s begin.
Jesus does not hate the rich. Jesus does make a statement that it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. However, His own treatment of the rich during His time on earth (take Zacchaeus for example), His calling of some known to be wealthy to be among His apostles, and His consistent teaching of love for all people (that would include the rich), defy the belief that somehow Jesus hated the rich…or even prefers poor people to them. If in fact Jesus does prefer the poor or only cares about the poor, why would we want to give them anything–if by doing so we are removing them from that spiritually privileged class? This makes little sense, and yet it is being taught from pulpits and publishing houses with great gusto and hyperbole–bringing injury to the Good News for all people.
Let me be clear: Time and time again Jesus calls on His followers to care for the needs of the poor. It’s at least on the Mt. Rushmore of His teaching–and perhaps Washington on that Mt. Rushmore. However, He never says He prefers the poor. He never says He dislikes the rich or that it is a sin to be rich. Jesus never calls on government to tax the rich to give to the poor. He teaches the transformative message of the Kingdom to rich and poor alike, calling all people (especially the rich) to live out the Kingdom will their whole being. This is particularly true of their wallet.
When people try to get Jesus to become King, he rejects it–saying His Kingdom is not of this world. If His isn’t, neither is ours. This by no means leads us to disregard or ignore the troubles of this world. It just means we don’t prioritize this world over Christ’s Kingdom. Rather, Christ’s Kingdom is what we bring to bear on this world through transformed, generous lives and the good news of the Gospel.
So, those who follow Christ love rich and poor. They avoid blanket demonization and hating their “enemies.” In our society, it’s common to talk about “fat cats” and use the term “rich” as a four-letter word. It isn’t. Where greed exists (both among rich and poor), we must call people to repent for the Kingdom is near. We must embody our preaching by living lives of justice and calling others to do so–without falling into the Constantinian trap of trying to legislate our values to all.
Lastly, we embrace a view of people that doesn’t demonize or favor based on salary. A person is far more than their paycheck. We always strive to love people as people and not paychecks–whether they have one or not–and whether it’s large or small. If a wealthy person loses their job and become poor, or a poor person eventually becomes more wealthy, God’s affection for them doesn’t rise and fall with that paycheck. He shows no favoritism.
His love is constant, and doesn’t change…regardless of what you make.
This is good news.