Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Was Jesus a Socialist?

So anyone that knows me knows where I stand politically - disagree with me or not, it doesn't really matter. And in the grand scheme of things, God has it under control anyway, and I know that he isn't sitting up there stressing, wringing his hands, wondering how it's going to turn out. He already knows. That said, this is not going to be about which candidate I'm voting for.

I've had some interesting questions raised this week about how Jesus would want us to vote for this candidate or that candidate. For starters, God isn't a democrat or republican. There are views on both ends that contradict what I read in the Bible. However, I read a really interesting argument that has had me rethinking everything: Socialism is Biblical.

From Matthew 25:
35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Clearly, Jesus wants us to take care of each other. We are called, as believers, to give of ourselves, to put each others' needs before our own. The communal life of the early church was inherently socialist, giving one's possessions, selling them off in order to contribute to the Church. However, I believe that there is a distinction between communal life between a group of believers and Socialism on a government level.

This may be politically incorrect, but here goes: The underlying premise of Christianity is NOT equality. It is salvation through Jesus. Period. That is not to say that God has favorites; he loves us all equally. But does that mean he means for us all to be completely equal in THIS world? Clearly he didn't, or we wouldn't have such different strengths and weaknesses, experiences and opportunities.

Let's stay in Matthew 25. Jesus tells two stories about a master who goes away for a long time. Who is this master he’s talking about? He is referring to himself, and we are the servants he has left to take care of business in his absence. We are stewards - he has entrusted us with the world.

This parable contains two important truths: The first is that the source of our wealth comes from God. He’s the one who gives. He’s also the one who takes away. The second is that God will give us not what we think we deserve, but what he knows we can handle.

He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities.

The NIV translation says that the master gave 5 talents to one, 2 talents to another, and 1 talent to the last. But what’s a talent? A talent is equal to 75 pounds of silver. The price of silver today is $9.66 per ounce, which is $154.56 per pound. So, to put this story into today’s terms, understand that the first person received 375 pounds of silver amounting to a total of $57,960. The second person received 150 pounds of silver amounting to a total of $23,184. The third person received 75 pounds of silver amounting to $11,592. Jesus said that the master divided the money in proportion to their abilities.

Now those of us who know the story know what happens. The first two doubled the master’s investment in them, which pleases their master.

Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!

The third servant buried what he had and merely returned what he had been given. He harbored resentment toward his master for giving the others more. Clearly, the unequal distribution chafed him a little. The master, however, doesn't redistribute the wealth. He actually takes away the little that the third servant had and gave it to those who were faithful. Sound like socialism? Actually, it's the exact opposite.

God gives to us according to what we can handle. He knows our hearts and our intentions. He didn’t give all the talents all at once. He started out with a little amount and then, when the servants showed that they were faithful to him with a little, He promised to give them even more responsibilities. Even more will be given to those who use well what they are given.

Use well. What does that mean?

If we keep reading, we’ll see Jesus divide those who remain after he leaves into two groups: the goats and the sheep. The sheep will get to be with him in His kingdom, but the goats will be thrown into the lake of fire.

There is a clear mandate, then, that those who will be sheep — the same ones who the Lord just praised for using well the resources he gave them — are to use those resources wisely. They are to feed the hungry, provide for clothing, visit and comfort the sick and the imprisoned. They are to love their neighbors in the course of their lives. No where in this parable does Jesus tell us to pass off this mandate onto the government. All these things are individual acts of love.

The goats are the ones who are like the servant who buried his money in the ground, full of resentment that he didn’t get a bigger share of the pie. But there may be times that we act more like goats than like sheep. Too many of us just pass on by the tenements and the homeless shelters without even a second thought because we know that the single mom is getting formula for her baby through WIC. We don’t concern ourselves much with getting our hands dirty in helping the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned because we figure there’s plenty of governmental assistance. And when we do this…when we rely on our government to do the mandate that Jesus himself gave us…then doesn’t that make us look suspiciously like goats?

So, there's my two cents. Are you a goat, or are you a sheep? I so want to be a sheep!


Imani said...

you know you and i disagree on a lot of political things (which is not a big deal, you and i are both smart, intelligent women) and i dare say that i appreciate the thought in this blog. i can't comment on matters of theology because it's a little rusty but i will say this --- no one should neglect the poor because they think "the government's handling it". i do believe that government-enacted programs have the potential to do a great deal of good and are sometimes necessary. with that being said, what kind of people would we be if we neglected what i think is, now, an innate nature to help? i have never been one to rely on anyone because that is the most false of trusts. we must enact change and do good.

i don't know if that makes me a goat or a sheep but you know my dad thinks i'm a socialist, anyway, so what can i do? :)

Pamela said...

well-written post. and while i don't think it matters what Jesus was, as far a socialism is concerned, He is probably disappointed in us as a people for needing to create a socialist society. because no matter how democratic and free-market we are, we are also socialist due to the very existence of our social support programs.

instead of being anti-socialism, i think our country would be better off just abandoning the labels and reaching out to the poor, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. because there is a better way.