Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jesus: Capitalist or Humanist?

I have to confess that I struggle mightily with the notions of conservatives, and particularly conservatives who identify themselves as Christians, who talk about having money, but not about using money for public good—who, in fact, will fight to keep themselves from having to pay taxes and also to keep public money from going into programs that help people.

I have heard many homiletic distortions on the subject of Jesus and money… I have heard and read rants in the media, from people I would have to consider irrational and even insane, on the topic of money. After hearing modern money-mongers and religious zealots on the topic of money, I must say that I continually come to the same conclusion: Jesus is not a Suze Ormon type of financial guru! And, also, that many of the rich who claim to be faithful to a supreme deity are deluded hypocrites. Is it really a person's God given right to accumulate wealth? Gosh, I haven't read any passages in scripture that assert that.

When Jesus speaks of the widow’s two mites, he really is saying that her offering was the greatest simply because it was all she had to give and she gave it all. In another story, the rich man Jesus “sent empty away” (and sorrowfully he sent the man away) precisely because he was not at all willing to give all he had to give, which was much, and could have been really helpful to many in need. 

Jesus seemed always to encourage an unencumbered life, one without anything more than one needs.  Jesus told the disciples not to have stuff, and only to take what was needed where it was offered freely. I read an article a few years ago about a tent city in Washington; one of the people interviewed said that if Jesus were alive, he would be living there, not in a suburban home, much less a luxury penthouse.

With regard to giving, the passage where Jesus speaks of the rendering of what is Ceasar’s unto Ceasar, what is God’s unto God, is an interesting passage for this reason: Jesus is pointing out that God does not make money and there is no money that has God’s image on it. Jesus is not at all telling people to tithe, he is telling us that God does not ask for or need money! (Have you ever heard that preached? I sure haven’t.) The implication that seems more proper is this: if God wants something from us, then what God wants is something more along the lines of giving of ourselves, with mind, body, spirit, where what we are or what we have is something needed to keep creation moving forward in a healthy way, to benefit people and planet. We pay tribute to God by in the most consistent and holistic way by giving of ourselves when what we have is needed elsewhere in God’s Garden, even if all that is needed is a smile.

Matt 6:19-21 “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” is completely consistent with this notion of rendering.

The miracle of the five loaves and two fish, found in all the gospel texts, could be understood as a story about sharing, akin to the old Stone Soup story. The disciples have two fish and five loaves, but who is to say that more food isn’t being hoarded among the crowd? The miracle might be less one of five loaves and two fish being divided among 5,000 people and more that the crowd understood that it could and should bring forth what food there was among them, for the common good.

When we tithe to our religious communities and when we pay our taxes, we must invest in the notion that keeping the organization running serves that requirement of giving of ourselves, a giving that is not just for us and our own benefit, but for the community at large, where our organized existence might serve to meet the needs of those who have less, or have nothing at all.

That is to say, we must invest our treasure and our hearts in God where God is and is needed most, which is, of course, everywhere. Those wealthy and apparently religious individuals who claim otherwise are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and sinners.

Thank you, Warren Buffett, for being real and for pointing out the obvious:  People with extreme wealth can afford to contribute more in taxes—and should. 


No comments:

Post a Comment