It’s been a frustrating few hours arguing with people on Facebook around this statement i shared on Facebook:
What if i am wrong?
A number of people came on and defended the rich and tried to misdirect away from the problem and called me a lot of things, telling me how my line of thinking was responsible for more deaths than Hitler managed and so on.
And it’s super frustrating because a lot of the stuff being said kinda makes sense and so i need to constantly be challenging my own thinking and wondering if i am going made because i believe that the ridiculous gap between the wealthy and the poor is immoral and should be challenged and changed. But it’s one of those things where although i [feel like] i know the right answer, i just don’t have the words to argue well and end up sounding a bit like a flat-earther.
The best-presented argument doesn’t necessarily prove to be the right one. But it can be. And so there is a need to question and self-reflect and consider what is being said.
i don’t buy it though. Anyone who feels like it is okay that someone travels in business class and owns three homes and goes skiing twice a year while someone else literally shits in a bucket is deluded.
Is there a solution? Maybe not. Maybe the world is so messed up that there is no solution to this one and we’ll keep on having mega rich and defending them and we’ll keep on having super poor and defending ourselves. But can we at the very least just collectively say, “This is messed up!” Can we start there? Cos i am not hearing that. Defend defend defend and attack those who suggest there is another way or even should be.
However, this is the bit that really gets to me. Outside of any kind of Jesus-following morality, i can kinda almost slightly get my head around it being okay to justify the rich/poor divide [i totally can’t, this feels like a decent human being kind of thing, but anyways] BUT the moment you bring Jesus into the equation, well that’s where i start to feel i do have a few more of the words…
So yes, it’s okay for the rich to be super rich in the face of absolute poverty… BUT JESUS!
The moment you add Jesus to the mix, i think so many of your arguments fall to the ground.
Starting with the greatest commandment, which given the title would have you surmising this might be something Jesus wants you to take seriously. It involves loving Jesus with everything you have and are, but then includes the tricky little p.s. ‘Oh and also love your neighbour as yourself.’
[Jesus perhaps knew how we would mess around with definitions on that one and so He subsequently made it clear that our neighbour is not a geographical next-door kind of entity but anyone, including enemy and especially – Matthew 25 – those who are in physical need of food, water, clothes, company…]
But Jesus wasn’t done there because in another passage He outlines that it means to be one of His disciples with the words, ‘If you want to follow Me you have to deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me.’ Somehow that seems somewhat to exclude trampling on the poor and spending your life trying to be comfortable while you chase your own comforts?
i mean that’s pretty explicit. It’s hard to defend wealth and particularly greed through that lens. To what extent and how does it look? Well, i figure the Holy Spirit will help us with that one if we ask her to.
But there’s more.
Not at a distance. Not in a way that allows you to live a life that goes completely against My lifestyle and teachings and yet somehow still tries to claim allegiance to My name. Following Me means taking my words and my life seriously. Which most christians tend to do to a point. And that point is often the denying of self.
But that’s not even all of it. The passage that wrecked me and continues to make me think i might be on to something when i try to live a life that is aimed in the direction of the poor [have a LONG way to go on this one, trust me, but moving in that direction] is this beauty from Luke 4:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
What names shall we call Jesus? What labels will we put on Him? How many deaths can we ascribe to times when people took that teaching seriously?
Jesus and rich people
It’s not that Jesus was overtly anti-rich, but He did seem to think that being rich made it a lot harder to be a genuine follower of God. And we have a number of encounters of Jesus and rich people to give us some kind of guidance.
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ [Mark 12]
He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ [Luke 14]
Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.’ [Luke 12]
The religious leaders of the day were not exempt:
Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God.’ [Luke 11]
Plus we have the encounter with Zacchaeus and how that ends with Zacchaeus both writing the wrongs he has committed and giving half of his possessions to the poor. Nowhere in the story do we see Jesus trying to hold him back, “No, no, no, I meant poor in spirit!” We also have the parable of Lazarus and the rich man [Luke 16] where Jesus shows a strong bias in naming the poor man and the fates that befall both.
But what if i am right?
When Jesus said, ‘The poor you will always have with you’ [a nice escape out of getting involved with the poor for many people cos why bother, right? Jesus suggests it’s pointless] i have often wondered if that was a prophetic statement, more than a definitive one.
We have enough food and shelter and medicine and transport for all of the people. It’s just that in our country and in the world at large, the majority of the resources are being held by the absolute minority of people [if you don’t find this absolutely disgusting then we have very different value systems!]. There is enough and if we changed our ways – and quite possibly our economic systems and lifestyles – perhaps the poor could be completely eliminated [in terms of being poor, not in terms of being wiped out, shame on you!]
But Jesus knows our hearts and our tendencies and knowing how we are likely to respond says, “The poor you will always have with you’, not as some fatalistic unavoidable statement, but perhaps as a complete indictment on the likelihood of us choosing comfort over denying, following our paths over choosing to walk behind Him in His, and taking up our phones or cars or sport or holidays or entertainments rather than our crosses.
You don’t need the answers to be able to declare, “THIS IS MESSED UP!” Once enough people are declaring that, then we can look together to what we might do about it. But the poor we will always have with us. Quite possibly cos we will continue to choose me.
Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.