Friday, September 25, 2015

The Pope, The Poor, And Jesus

By Victor J. Ward

Have you heard? The Pope is in town.

In short, he hates capitalism and the free market.

I am Christian, not Catholic. So, maybe I am missing something in my analysis of the Pope. But, I believe that he is supposed to be the Vicar of Christ. The reasoning seems to be: "We don't have the physical Christ, but we do have the Pope. The Pope can speak where Christ has not."

Jesus, however, has spoken about the poor, and he didn't say that much.

I want to address two conversations that Jesus had regarding the poor. The first is found in Mark 14.

Allow me to set the scene: Jesus is at the home of a friend when a woman comes in with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume. She breaks the jar and pours the perfume on his head.

Some of the people saw what the woman did. They complained. They said that the perfume could have been sold and that the money could have been given to the poor.

Did Jesus join the critics in their condemnation of the woman? No; instead, he told the critics to shut-up:

"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. . . Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."

Jesus teaches that we will always have poor people in the world. Any person who believes that they or others can eliminate poverty must believe that they are greater than Jesus.

Good luck with that.

Notice that Jesus did not say that we must help the poor. He does not even say that we should help the poor. He says that we can help the poor. (Granted, in other places in the the Bible there is direction and suggestion to help the poor. But here, we are focused on what Jesus does and does not say.)

The second conversation can be found in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18. It is a story about a conversation that Jesus has with a rich man.

This is the only place that I have found where Jesus directs someone to give money to the poor.

Here is the backdrop: A rich guys runs up to Jesus and asks Jesus what is necessary for eternal life. Jesus tells him a few things. Then the guy basically says to Jesus, "Fantastic! I have been doing all of those things since I was young! I am good to go!"

Jesus responds, "Not so fast. You still need to do one more thing:"

Matthew records Jesus as saying:
"If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me."

In Mark, Jesus says:
"Go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me."

In Luke, Jesus says:
"Sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

At first blush, these passages seem to get increasingly worse and worse for the Capitalist. In Matthew, Jesus just says to sell your possessions and give to the poor. Ok -- that's easy enough.

In Mark, Jesus tells the man to sell ALL of his possessions. Well, that would hurt. But, the Markan account never has Jesus instructing the man to give away all of the money from the sale. Jesus simply gives a blanket instruction to give to the poor. So, again, easy enough. A rich guy could give a job to the poor. He could give an education to the poor. He could give an investment to the poor. Each of these things would be better than simply giving money to the poor, and they would satisfy Jesus' directive.

But, the Lukan passage seems to have us in checkmate. My understanding of the Luke passage has Jesus giving the rich guy the direction to sell ALL of his goods and then to take the profits from the sale and give ALL those profits to the poor.

Maybe Jesus, in fact, did have Socialist leanings -- at least from the rich man's perspective.

But wait, the Lukan passage has one other thing that neither Matthew nor Mark have.

Both Matthew and Mark say that the guy who approached Jesus was a rich man. That's the extent of their analysis of the man. Luke, however, adds one crucial detail.

How does Luke describe the guy? The beginning of the story gives us Luke's perspective:

"A capitalist questioned Jesus." Nope, that's not it.

"A CEO questioned Jesus." Wrong again.

"A business man questioned Jesus." Sorry.

" A ruler questioned Jesus." Bingo! Yes, a "ruler." Someone in the government class. A government official. Someone in the political elite.

Jesus tells this ruler/government official that he needs to get rid of all that he has and give it to the poor. Then he needs to follow Jesus.

When the Pope met with Obama, was this the Pope's message? Did he call on Obama to sell all of his goods and give all of that money to the poor? When the Pope met with Congress, was he truly Christ's representative on earth? Did he speak as Christ spoke?

Somehow, I doubt it.

Victor J. Ward  first came across libertarianism by reading Murray Rothbard's Ronald Reagan: An Autopsy and Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable. He holds a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and an MBA from Santa Clara University.

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