Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jesus and the 1%

From the Gospel according to Luke:

"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. ...
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. ...
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." (6:21-28)


"Which one of you, having a hundred hseep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." (15:4-7)


"There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" He replied, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God." (18:22-27)


A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

In my opinion it is wise to let Jesus' words speak more than our own, but perhaps I should comment on what I see in these passages. Two observations. First, it is a fact that Jesus said that wealthy people are in real spiritual danger. Christians of a conservative persuasion should not be blithe about this. Note that Jesus doesn't proclaim the salvation has come to Zacchaeus on account of his personal statement of faith, but rather on account of his promised generosity to the poor and repentance from fraud. Greed might be normal, but that doesn't mean we are justified in growing callous towards it. Economic success has a very real dark side.

Second, Jesus did not come to start a crusade against the wealthy, nor did he give in to popular prejudice against tax collectors. Popular dislike of the wealthy is nothing new. Those who are not seen as paying their fair share to society are always treated as outsiders. But just as Jesus welcomes the prostitutes, he also welcomes the tax collectors. Christians on the left are unjustified in viewing the world in terms of class warfare. "Love your enemies," Jesus said. In fact, the ones who actually get accused in the gospels of loving money are the scribes and Pharisees, who make a show of how much they give charitably.

No matter who you are or what side you think you're on, Jesus has something challenging to say to you. It's just always a struggle to get ourselves to realize this.

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