GOD vs. Greed
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WHY was Jesus so concerned about wealth ?
"The Spirit of the Lord
is upon me;
he has appointed me to
preach Good News to the poor;
he has sent me to
heal the brokenhearted and to
announce that the blind shall see,
that captives shall be released
and the downtrodden shall
be freed (i.e. liberated)
from their oppressors."
Did Jesus accomplish his mission during the next three years of his life? Of course not. But did Jesus ever plan to do all of this alone, and in his own lifetime? Or did Jesus' vision include a multitude of followers, who over the centuries and in every nation in the world would share that vision and work towards its realization in His Name? If Christ's followers would pay close attention to what Jesus explicitly identified as the most important parts of his own teaching, they would recognize that Jesus expects them to share in his mission to preach Good News to the poor; . . . to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that the blind shall see, that captives shall be released and the downtrodden shall be liberated from their oppressors."
There is no need to wonder about what is most important in Christ's teaching, because he was asked about that very matter, and answered as follows ( reiterated in Mark 12, 28–31, Luke 10, 25–28 (below), and John 13, 34–35 ) :
"Sir, which is the most important command in the laws of Moses?" Jesus replied,
"This is the first and greatest commandment: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.'
The second most important is similar: 'Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.'
All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others."
In Luke's Gospel, Jesus may be answering the same question posed to him above, but the wording is a little different here, and the so-called "Parable of the Good Samaritan" becomes Jesus' way of spelling out whom he wants us to consider our neighbors, i.e. not those who live closest to us or who are most closely related to us, but those who are most in need of our help.
One day an expert on Moses' laws came to test Jesus'
orthodoxy by asking him this question:
"Teacher, what does a man need to do
to live forever in heaven?" Jesus replied,
"What does Moses' law say about it?"
"It says," he replied, " that you
must love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength,
and with all your mind. And you must
love your neighbor just as much as you love yourself.
" "Right!", Jesus told him.
"Do this and you shall live!"
But, wanting to justify himself, the man asked, "Which neighbors must I love?" And Jesus replied with an illustration:
"A Jew going on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes and money, and beat him up and left him lying half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along; and when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A temple–assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but then went on.
But a despised Samaritan (a non-believer) came along, and when he saw him, he felt deep pity. Kneeling beside him the Samaritan soothed his wounds with medicine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his donkey and walked along beside him till they came to an inn, where he nursed him through the night. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins and told him to take care of the man. "If his bill runs higher than that," he said, " I'll pay the difference the next time I am here."
"Now which of these three," Jesus asked, " would you say was a neighbor to the bandit's victim?" The man replied, "The one who showed him some pity." Then Jesus said, "Yes, now go and do the same."
There is no doubt that Christ's "Parable of the Good
Samaritan" is one of his all time favorite sermons.
But how many clergymen who use it in their preaching
point out that, instead of following the example of the
clergy and other "churchy" people, Jesus went out of his way
to direct his followers to"Go and do like" the infidel, because HE was
the one and only one who cared that a fellow man was
in pain, and in need of help ?
For centuries, while millions – if not billions – of people have been systematically victimized, not by bandits, but by highly respected companies and "entrepreneurs", whole churches have been virtually oblivious to those crimes and still are. And they have not just crossed over to the other side of the street, but have often moved their church buildings to other communities, so as not to even see the troubles of troubled communities. Are crimes against innocent victims any less tragic because they are happening all day, every day, on a massive scale, and if they are only seen through the eyes of reporters and/or television cameras?
Many "churchmen" tell poor victims of such
oppression – if they talk to them at all –
that the "Good News" which Jesus was sent
by the Spirit of the Lord to deliver to them was
some spiritual "pie in the sky when you die".
Their version of Christ's teaching is that the poor
should bear their cross in this life and
look forward to deliverance "in the next life."
That would have been a great line for the
priest in Jesus' parable to deliver to the victim of
the bandits, before he crossed to the other side of
the road. But that is hardly what Jesus had in mind
when he said he had been sent
"to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that the
blind shall see, that captives shall be released, and the
downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors".
How far from that vision of liberating love and activism have the clergy moved! How many of them now have become more and more like the upper class people to whom they like to minister, living more and more like them, and moving further and further away from those whom Jesus came to liberate. Indeed, instead of fighting with the poor against their oppressors, they have often turned religion into an "opiate of the people", i.e. something to keep the disadvantaged from feeling their pain badly enough to rebel against their oppressors. Christians can easily dismiss Karl Marx's indictment as the rantings of an enemy. But no atheistic critic has had harsher things to say about the failures of religious leaders than has Jesus himself:
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing
but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by
their fruits (i.e. by their actions) . . . "Not everyone who says
to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the
one who does the will of my Father in heaven."
"On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not preach in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?" Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.' "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was its fall !"
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes did". . .
These days many clergy are still "preaching and casting out demons ", still claiming, without justification, to speak and to act in Christ's name. But this web site invokes the authority of Christ's own words to demand that those who want to use the name of Christ and/or the Bible, earn that right by being true to what Jesus and the bible actually taught. And simply sprinkling one's own pet theories with quotes from the Scriptures is not enough to make one a genuine spokesman for Jesus or the Bible. As Shakespeare said so well, " Even the Devil can quote the Scripture for his own purposes." Neither is it enough to be enamored of certain parts of Jesus' teaching, while ignoring other indispensable parts of that teaching, and therefore failing to enlighten one's followers about that essential teaching.Christ's Second Answer to Crucial Question # 3 :
While many people today think they are perfectly good Christians, if they love the kinds of people who love them, Jesus shocked his listeners when he unveiled a very different portrait of what constitutes good Christians :
Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.And in
Jesus said: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.Jesus even made the point that his teaching applied to his own immediate family, in
Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
To spell out what loving those neighbors entails, Jesus explained what God expects in OUR day, by having his listeners fast forward themselves to judgement day (when God will make us face the consequences of what we do today) :
"When I, the Messiah, shall come in glory, and all
the angels with me, then I shall sit upon my throne of
glory. And all the nations shall be gathered
before me. And I will separate the people as a
shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and
place the sheep at my right hand, and the goats at
Then I, the King, shall say to those at my right, "Come, blessed of my Father, into the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me."
Then these righteous ones will reply, " Sir, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you anything to drink? Or a stranger, and help you? Or naked, and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?" And I, the King, will tell them, "When you did it to these my brothers you were doing it to me!"
Then I will turn to those on my left and say, "Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry and you wouldn't feed me; thirsty, and you wouldn't give me anything to drink; a stranger, and you refused me hospitality; naked and you wouldn't clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn't visit me."
Then they will reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?" And I will answer, "When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing to help me." And they shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into everlasting life."
All kinds of Christians think they know Jesus' teaching. But how many think of the necessity of loving one's neighbors more than one's possessions, as the centerpiece of that teaching?
Then someone came to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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."
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?"
"Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."
The love of money is so great that it is difficult to
find preachers, in prosperous white communities
at least, who preach anything like what Jesus
preached about money and/or wealth.
As the world has become more and more developed, millions upon millions of people are becoming more and more miserable, while a handful of others keep getting more and more obscenely wealthy.
Is the negligence of the clergy any less reprehensible
when, instead of a single clergyman ignoring
the suffering of a single victim, whole churches
ignore the suffering of vast segments of human kind?
Try reading the parable of the "Good Samaritan" as
"the parable of church leaders who miss the boat,"
and see what a difference it makes, especially
if you view it with a world perspective.
Clergymen are meant to play an important role in the promotion of religion. But, in the words of Jesus, "From those to whom much has been given, much will be required." (Luke 12:48) As a clergyman myself, I am afraid than many of us are guilty of something far more serious than not stopping to help individual victims of injustice. We are guilty of having twisted the teaching of the Bible, so as to enable others or even ourselves to hoard monstrously outlandish portions of this world's bounty on the one hand, and power on the other, and in the process, to ignore and forget the millions of our brothers and sisters , who are suffering untold misery, neglect, abuse and oppression at the hands of others. And in doing so, we are not only disobeying the second Great Commandment (to love our neighbor), but thereby proving that loving and pleasing God (the first Great Commandment) is not as important to us as accumulating wealth. We dedicate a whole web page to the need for preachers to preach about what was most important to Jesus as opposed to all kinds of other nonsense that they obsess about.
Among other things, the parable below shows dramatically how difficult it is for the wealthy to even hear the Bible's teaching regarding wealth. (And the "wealthy" in our day includes not only the "super-rich", but the "upper middle-class", who in our day enjoy many more luxuries and possessions than even kings, queens and emperors never even dreamed of enjoying).
"One day Lazarus, a diseased beggar, was laid at
the door of a rich man's house. As he lay there
longing for scraps from the rich man's table, the dogs
would come and lick his open sores. Finally the
beggar died and was carried by the angels to be with
Abraham in the place of the righteous dead.
The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went into hell. There, in torment, he saw Lazarus in the far distance with Abraham. 'Father Abraham,' he shouted, 'have some pity! Send Lazarus over here if only to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in these flames.' But Abraham said to him, 'Son, remember that during your life-time you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us, and anyone wanting to come to you from here is stopped at its edge; and no one over there can cross to us.'
Then the rich man said, ' O Father Abraham, then please send him to my father's home – for I have five brothers – to warn them about this place of torment lest they come here when they die.' But Abraham said, 'The Scriptures have warned them again and again. Your brothers can read them any time they want to.' The rich man replied, 'No, Father Abraham, they won't bother to read them. But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will turn from their sins.' But Abraham said, 'If they won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even though someone rises from the dead.'
Note that despite the remarkable similarity between Jesus' parable about the rich man and Charles Dickens' parable about Scrooge, Dickens is far more optimistic about the prospects for the repentance and salvation of the rich than is Jesus. In contrast to Scrooge, whom Dickens portrays as being moved by the ghostly apparitions to repentance and redemption, the Gospel holds out no such hope for its wealthy villains. On the contrary, the Gospel insists : "If they won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even though someone rises from the dead."
To believe today's "televangelists", following Christ and being saved is "a piece of cake". All it takes to be "christened" (i.e. be considered a Christian) is a preacher and a little water, and maybe a short trip to an altar (or stage). Where do these preachers and churches get these ideas? Certainly not from Jesus, who laid down far more demanding requirements for those who would achieve eternal life by following his teaching.
Jesus told him that he must begin by obeying the ten
commandments. But, then he stressed . . .
'If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' But when the young man heard this, he went away sadly, for he was very rich."
Instead of walking away, prosperous people have found that there is always some preacher to be found who will tell them that they can keep most of their wealth and still be "Christians".
In fact, if they gave just a little bit of their wealth to
the church itself, and to its clergy, they can be treated as model Christians.
When Jesus urged his followers to shed their wealth,
he directed that they give it to the poor, not to himself or to
his associates. Many clergy use Jesus' words,
"it is more blessed to give than to receive" in order to
persuade others to give in order that they themselves can
be receiving! If they really
believe it is more blessed to give, then why do they choose to be
on the receiving end of those gifts?
. . . Then Jesus comes to the important point of this parable:
"It is almost impossible for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again – 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!"
For Jesus, as for many other great prophets of the Bible,
the pursuit of riches on the one hand, and of salvation
on the other, are so incompatible that a choice
must be made of one or the other. And
the more riches one possesses the harder it
is to choose salvation, which requires
the repudiation of those riches.
"It is almost impossible for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again – 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!"
"You cannot serve two masters: God and Mammon (money). For you will hate one and love the other, or else the other way around."
The multi-millionaire founder and current president of the
"Christian Coalition" Pat Robertson, wasn't a particularly
religious Baptist until he met Cornelius Vanderbreggen a
Dutch "theologian", who told him that a man of God can
be rich. "God is generous, not stingy," Vangerbreggan
told Robertson, as they dined at an elegant hotel.
"He wants you to have the best."
Many Christian clergy have sold their souls for far less than Pat Robertson's millions and have embraced and taught the Gospel according to Robertson and Vanderbreggan, which tells people they are saved just the way they are, no matter how much misery their oppressed and/or impoverished neighbors are suffering across the seas, or across the tracks, if not across the street, while they enjoy "God's blessings". If God is responsible for the "blessings" of the well-to-do, then he must also be responsible for the "curse" of vast numbers of the poor and the oppressed.
And he said to them, "Take care! Be on
your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life
does not consist in the abundance of possessions."
Then he told them a parable: "The land
of a rich man produced abundantly. And he
thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have
no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will
do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger
ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have
ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink,
be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool!
This very night your life is being demanded of you.
And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'
So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." "Yes, every man is a fool who gets rich on earth but not in heaven. Sell what you have and give to those in need. This will fatten your purses in heaven! And the purses of heaven have no rips or holes in them. Your treasures there will never disappear; no thief can steal them; no moth can destroy them. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be."
Wealth is clearly a serious challenge for Christians. Yet although some passages make it seem like all wealth is evil, the great majority of passages make it clear that what is evil is the imbalance in the distribution of the world's wealth , and how it got that way. After all, God created everything in the world, and he "saw that it was good". And after putting people on this earth,
God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food."
What Jesus condemned, is what the Old Testament
had condemned, not wealth itself, but the excessive
wealth of some, at the expense of others.
It may well be impossible to properly understand the
New Testament emphasis on the redistribution of
wealth from the unjustly rich to the unjustly poor
without the background of the Old Testament,
which spells out and condemns much more explicitly
many of the ways in which the weak have been
exploited and/or robbed by the strong almost from
the beginning of time.
When Jesus described his purpose in life in the words of Luke 4:18, (above), we believe he was describing the role of his followers as well.  And yet, the message that many Christian clergy and churches seem to have gotten from the instruction at the end of Christ's great sermon on the good Samaritan, "Go and do likewise", is that they should follow the example of the of the priest and the Levite in this parable. While churches have been giving token food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it has often been "infidels" and secular organizations that have been truly serious about rescuing the hungry, the imprisoned, the naked, the homeless, the uninsured, the addicted, the embattled, the refugee, the immigrant, and on and on and on.
We do not intend to create a new "denomination" and thereby add to the division that already exists among Christians, but we do intend to light a fire under people, and especially leaders, who claim to be believers in Christ, on behalf of those whom Jesus wants us to love and liberate. And we want to honor, embrace, join and support , the "good Samaritans" of our day who put us and our clergy to shame!
Christians need to be warned not to be fooled by people who are more concerned about promoting the G.O.P. than god. For many who promote "Christian Conservatism", their actual faith and religion is not Christianity, but "Conservatism", and Christianity is nothing but a tool for promoting what they really care about. If the Bible's teaching and values were what they wanted to "conserve", they would be defending the poor and the powerful against the rich, instead of the other way around.
Many of these people may not be honest enough even to let themselves face it, but their actions show that what they are fighting to recover and/or preserve are various "traditional" advantages that have been enjoyed either by the rich over the poor, by employers over their employees, by businesses over consumers, by those in the white majority over people of color, by the "native-born" (i.e. long-time immigrants to this country) over recent or prospective immigrants, by men and boys over women and girls, and by the middle-aged and healthy over children, the elderly and the handicapped.
Some of these "Christians" even tempt us to use political means – instead of moral persuasion – to insure the continued dominance of Christians over non-Christians, in this country , as though they couldn't trust their faith to prevail or prosper without enlisting a lot of extra political muscle behind it!
Jesus was all about defending the weak against the strong, and preached constantly to "the haves", like many of us (who are wealthy by the world's standards) that salvation was impossible, unless and until we can learn to part with our excess wealth and redistribute it to those who are really entitled to it, the "have nots".
" We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth."
"John (the Baptist) said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." And the crowds asked him, "What then should we do?" In reply he said to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."
The wonderful vision of love, justice and compassion that Christ lived and died for was perhaps best summarized in
"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth."
"If there is an urgent and clear need, so urgent and clear that it is evident that an immediate response must be made on the basis of what is available . . . then a person may legitimately supply his need from the property of someone else, whether openly or secretly. Strictly speaking, such a case is not theft or robbery." St. Thomas Aquinas
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of GOD vs. Greed