Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:21-22
In our current political discourse, there is no shortage of politicians who want to turn the Gospel upside down.
We used to have the "war on poverty," now we have a war on the poor.
Some politicians are concerned because 47% of Americans do not pay income tax. So am I. But not for the same reason. As Christians, we need to be concerned about the roots of that problem. The root problem is that the bottom half of the country has so little money. The gap between rich and poor has been growing for decades. Since the 1970’s we have been redistributing income from the bottom to the top.
The top 1% of the population has an average household income of over $1,000,000.
The top 10% has an average income of over $160,000.
The bottom 90% averages just over $30,000.
That’s per household, not per person.
The wealthiest 1% pays about 40% of all income taxes, which sounds like a lot until you realize that they also have about 40% of the wealth. So their tax burden is really about average.
Poor people do pay taxes, of course. They pay sales taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, and payroll taxes. On average, the lowest income group pays over 16% of their income in taxes.
But there are lots of politicians who want poor people to pay more in income taxes. Senator Dan Coats of Indiana has said that everyone should pay some income tax so that “everyone has some skin in the game.”
Some are upset with the earned income tax credit, introduced by President Reagan, which provides tax “refunds” to the working poor in excess of what they paid in taxes. But the earned income tax credit is one of the most effective antipoverty programs, because it provides an extra incentive for working, as well as thousands of dollars to poor families each year.
The earned income tax credit and the child tax credit lifted 7.2 million families out of poverty in 2009. And they provide an on-going economic stimulus because almost every dollar is immediately pumped back into the economy in the form of consumer spending.
When Jesus told the rich young man that he “lacked one thing,” the disciples were shocked. Mark reports that then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And again, the disciples were perplexed, so Jesus repeated himself, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”
“To enter the kingdom of God” is to live into God’s presence, to live as God calls us to live, and to be part of making the kingdom of God come “on earth as it is in heaven.” That is the prayer that Jesus taught us and that is the work to which he calls us.