Monday, February 24, 2014

Jesus Called It an Abomination

A servant cannot serve two masters; for a servant will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.
Luke 16:13-15

The 85 richest people in the world have about the same amount of money as the poorest 3.5 billion people. Jon Stewart listened intently as a news clip played, explaining that the total wealth of half the world’s population was barely as much as the richest 85 people.

“JESUS CHRIST!” he exclaimed, sounding as if he could not help himself. And then he paused before finishing the sentence, “. . . would be very unhappy.”

Yes, Jesus would be very unhappy.

According to the Gospel record, Jesus used the word “abomination” exactly once. Wealth, he said, is “prized by human beings,” but it is “an abomination in the sight of God.” After that exchange he went on to tell the parable of the rich man and the poor man (Luke 16:19-31) and he made it clear in the parable that the real problem was the dramatic inequality between the two. As far as we know, the rich man did not get his money dishonestly. The problem was simply that he had so much and the poor man had so little.

The poor man “longed to satisfy his hunger with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table,” but he got nothing.

Pope Francis expressed a similar sentiment when he commented on the failure of “trickle down” economics. “The promise,” he said, “was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger and nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

Luke says that when Jesus talked about wealth and poverty, the wealthy people “ridiculed him.” The same thing happened to Pope Francis. The same pundits and commentators who were totally on board with Roman Catholic teachings on gay rights and abortion were quick to say that the pope should stick to spiritual matters. One can only assume that they have never read the Gospels.

In one sense, the pope’s critics are right. The economic problem is symptomatic of a deeper spiritual problem. It isn’t about economics as much as it is about theology. Jesus said that we cannot worship wealth if we want to worship God. The worship of wealth is idolatrous. In our time the worship of wealth is buttressed by the conviction that a free market will provide a fair and just distribution of wealth and income. We believe that the distribution is fair because it is determined by the market. And we know that the market is fair. We “know” this even though the numbers tell us that it isn’t fair at all.

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