What Did Jesus Teach About Wealth?

A recent HuffPo article entitled “Sorry Republicans But Jesus was a Marxist” provoked my interest. I encourage you to read it because I am convinced you can learn much from those with whom you disagree. I hope you agree with that, because out of what follows, 20% of you will love it, 10% will misunderstand it, 30% will cherry-pick and miss the point, and the majority will hate it.

One commenter (yes, to my chagrin, I read the comments) rightly pointed out it is anachronistic to call Jesus a Marxist, and yes, it is prima facie. In a draft of this post, I briefly explained Marxist philosophy, but you will thank me for deleting it. I will help you with the gist: for various historical reasons, Communism doesn’t equate with Marxism, and the latter has a lot to recommend for a philosophy of government and public policy. Let’s debate that one another time. What I rather explore with you is Jesus’ teachings on socioeconomics.

A thick book digging into the cultural, historical and religious context of Jesus’ various teachings on socioeconomics would be the most effective, but I likely only have your attention for a few hundred more words, so let me use it more wisely and focus on one of his teachings, as cited by Reza Aslan:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Put yourself in the scene. You are a Jew in 1st century Palestine: a poor minority living in an occupied territory under brutal religio-political oppression. Think Blacks in Klan-territory of the Jim Crow South after Reconstruction. You have no legal standing. No rights. Violence can be lawfully inflicted upon you without recourse. Dreams of liberty are dashed when anyone who fights back is crucified.

The religion of Jesus taught reversal, and he was crucified for it as an enemy of the state.

Now Jesus tells you that you’re blessed for being meek, that you will inherit the earth. I imagine some will sharply intake their breaths and get a new steely gaze in their eyes, others will look at him quizzically. Everyone though will desperately want to believe him, despite how fantastic his words are. How can the meek inherit the earth? The powerful inherit it, that’s just the way of things, what Jesus suggests is not new it’s a reversal of what is.

And there it is: Jesus taught and believed in socioeconomic reversal.

Jesus believed and taught that when the Kingdom of God came, everything would be turned on its head: the meek would inherit the earth; the hungry filled; the merciful wouldn’t be taken advantage of, nor the peacemakers mocked. Summing up his ministry at a synagogue in his hometown, Jesus said prisoners would be liberated, the blind would see, the oppressed free.

The reversal theme is captured nowhere better than when Mary, the Mother of God, sang this prophecy about her Son:

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
But has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
But has sent the rich away empty.

The religion of Jesus taught reversal, and he was crucified for it as an enemy of the state. Today, the religion of Jesus is still barred in autocracies, believers killed, because they knew what American slave owners knew: if they hear the Gospel, they will want to turn the world upside down.

In our country, the spirit of the antichrist, which John said is even now in the world, perverts the Gospel in our churches to have us bless social inequality as God’s will that we always have the poor with us, or to focus on giving to get or giving to build. Our attempts to silence teachers who say otherwise reflects our rebellious attitude to our soothsayers, and our willful blindness to Jesus’ own words on reversal demonstrates we disagree vigorously with our Lord when he says “You cannot serve both God and money.”

Now is the time for argument. If Jesus taught socioeconomic reversal, we’re all wrong in our politics, our foreign policy, our individual lives. Nothing can shake loose, however, until we fully acknowledge what Jesus actually taught – and continues to teach today.

If Jesus taught socioeconomic reversal, then it is with this fact we as Christians must deal.

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