126: JESUS AND WEALTHY PEOPLE

“Welcome to Zingcreed, the only religious blog in the world that has more questions than answers! As I muse aloud about religion and life from a Christian/Atheist perspective, you are welcome to eavesdrop! I hope you get something out of it !” Peter Turner M.A. M.Sc.

MERELY BY HAVING ACCESS TO A COMPUTER TO READ THIS BLOG MEANS YOU ARE RICH.

Even though I have always earned less than the UK national average wage , currently at £29,000 p.a. I am still rich by the world’s standards – in the richest 6% to be precise. I wish it weren’t so . Redistribution is fine by me. I am sure I have worked a lot less hard than some of the peasants who are earning a penny a day in the Global South so that we may have cheap Kenyan beans and throw-away Primark clothing from some fire-risk Bangladeshi sweatshop.

Jesus had a lot to say about the rich. He made his feelings quite clear. He saw no justification for the inequitable distribution of wealth. This was totally in keeping with prophetic Jewish thought. See Zingcreed Post “The prophets attack profits

What Jesus said:

1/ “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mk 10:25)
In this proverb about the camel and the eye of a needle, which Myers (i) calls a parody or joke, we see the old assumptions summarily turned on their head. There is no connection between wealth on the one hand and piety or blessedness on the other.
The verse has received ingenuous “manipulation at the hands of bourgeois conscience-tranquilizing exegetes” (José Miranda) (See Zingcreed Post ‘Wrong! It doesn’t mean that!‘ As Beuchner has said in his sarcastic contemporary paraphrase “It is harder for a wealthy North American to enter the Kingdom than for  Nelson Rockefeller to get through the night deposit slot of the First National City Bank!” (ii)

2/ ” Jesus is sceptical about the possibility of having wealthy disciples (Mk 10:23-26). He said to his disciples “How hard it will be for those having riches to enter into the Kingdom of God”. As I’ve mentioned above,  Jesus repudiates the predominant idea that ‘Wealth is a blessing from God’. (Corollary – if you’re poor, God doesn’t love you). But, God does love the poor most and the only way to salvation for the rich is by redistribution of their wealth, i.e. the eradication of class oppression.

3/ The story of the rich young man is well known (Mk 10:17 ff) He ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees before him and asked what he should do to inherit eternal life. After ascertaining that he followed the ten commandments assiduously, Jesus said Give all your stuff to the poor. “At this the man’s face fell. he went away sad because he had great wealth” (v.22).

Thus we see that then, as now, the rich are congenitally incapable of responding to these concrete imperatives. Following Jesus means not just the assent of the heart, but “a fundamental re-ordering of socio-economic relationships”. This is just Myers pussy-footing around with academic euphemisms. He means a bloody revolution.  The gospel is for and about the poor. We, the privileged metropolitan classes, are only secondarily its subjects: we can only identify with “the rich man”.

José Porfirio Miranda (iii) was one of South America’s most challenging Liberation theologians, and an academic whiz-kid to boot. (See Zingcreed Post “No way, José“). He claims that it’s not wealth per se that’s the issue. If the whole world were rich, that would be marvellous because everything would be equitably shared. No one would be ripping off anybody else. The sucker that’s born every minute would be protected from his own stupidity and his exploitation would be nipped in the bud. Miranda points out that Jesus defends the sinful woman’s anointing him with very costly oil of nard. In the wedding feast at Cana, he was very pleased to contribute, in order to enhance the merrymaking of the whole company, six twenty gallon jars of very fine wine. Jesus had no horror of wealth, neither in itself nor in its use and enjoyment.
No, what he objected to is simply that some are poor while others are rich. Miranda’s translator uses the term “differentiating wealth”. I prefer “relative  wealth”. On this one ethical issue, Jesus was totally intransigent. You might be a good bloke, but if you’re RICH, you’ve had it. You might be a heap of sh#t, but if you’re POOR you will be amply rewarded. It’s all straight out of the Hebrew (Old) Testament (See Zingcreed Post “Prophets against profits“). The texts say that there is no legitimate way to acquire relative wealth. You can only enrich yourself at someone else’s expense. Some man or woman winds up poor because you got rich. As a friend of mine said after he returned to Britain after 2 years teaching in rural Zambia, “I went into Sainsbury’s and I almost wept.”
It’s linked to the notion that some are born to be masters, some to be slaves; that some are born for a higher standard of living, others for a lower. “That is why the bible directly attacks differentiating wealth.”

As fellow Liberation Theologian Elsa Tamez from Costa Rica says (iv) “The reason the Bible opposes the rich is not because they are rich but because they have acquired their riches at the expense of their neighbours.” (p.73) (James 5:1-6). This doesn’t have to be intentional, as long as you’re part of the capitalist system, and who isn’t, then by default you play your part in widening the gap. She spells out the Beatitudes to make her point. (Mt 5 and Lk 6) as well as the book of Proverbs “He who oppresses a poor man insults his maker, but he who is kind to the needy honours him.” (Pr. 14:31)

The Christian message is challenging, perhaps that’s why we so rarely hear it in church.

Sources:

(i) Myers, Ched “Binding the strong man. A political reading of Mark’s story of Jesus” Orbis Books (1988 & 2011) p.275
(ii) Beuchner, F. quoted in Myers, op. cit. p.275
(iii) Miranda, José Porfirio “Communism in the Bible” Wipf and Stock (1982)
(iv) Tamez, Elsa “Bible of the Oppressed” Orbis (1982)

Related Zingcreed Posts:
557: Paris, May 1968; My first revolution
559: Just helping is not enough
The causes of poverty according to Clodovis Boff
Red Christian Documents #39: Voluntary Poverty (Gustavo Gutierrez, Peru, 1971)
Structural ‘sin
Crimes of the bourgeoisie #4: Resources go to the rich

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One comment

  1. […] Other related Zingcreed Posts, not mentioned above:Esquivel’s Stations of the CrossDear Pope #7: “Stop punishing dissident priests!”Marx’s 3 criticisms of religionI accuse #9: “CIA behind missionaries in Latin America!”Crimes of the bourgeoisie #4: Resources go to the richJesus and wealthy people […]

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