Posts Tagged ‘rich and poor’

JAMES 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

“Money talks,” the old adage goes. It doesn’t very often tell the truth, perhaps, but it holds a persuasive power that can be nearly impossible to resist. Just as today, the church in Jerusalem had tended to tilt in favor of the wealthy over the poor, giving them best seats in the house and more volume to their preferences and complaints. Even back then, ministry was supported through congregational stewardship, and the biggest givers frequently got the largest votes.

Thankfully, behind church politics and denominational greed there is the charter document of the Gospel, which tells the story of Jesus whose words on the accumulation of wealth and the societal division between the rich and the poor are anything but sympathetic to our temptations toward money. Jesus consistently came down on the side of the poor against those whose lifestyles, social prejudices, and religious self-justifications perpetrated abuse and neglect on the backs of the disadvantaged majority.

Since those with money often put forward the capital investment to fund the church’s mission to the poor and others in need, it is sometimes (mistakenly) believed that the investors are more important to her ministry than the beneficiaries. Which brings up another question: As church property and the technology of ministry become increasingly expensive and elaborate, what becomes of our responsibility for the humble poor?

 PROVERBS 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
    the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
    for they share their bread with the poor.

22 Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
    or crush the afflicted at the gate;
23 for the Lord pleads their cause
    and despoils of life those who despoil them.

Deep in the spirituality of the Bible is a moral insight, that one’s choices and way of life are productive in bringing forth a future harvest of consequences. It’s not simply the fact that every action produces a consequence of some sort, but that one’s quality of life tomorrow, along with one’s moral destiny in the longer term, are determined by the faith and responsibility by which one lives today.

The religion of the Bible is not alone in this belief. Indeed, all of the religions teach that personal destiny is in large part a function of moral character and whether one’s choices and commitments are inherently self-interested or rather performed with a higher good in mind.

The Bible went still further, however, in its unique and revolutionary concern for “the poor of the land.” Beyond just being a “good person,” it was imperative that a believer in God actually share in the divine compassion for those who suffer and who are outside the social circles of power and privilege. With a beginning recognition of equality before God between the rich and the poor, the bible’s compassion-driven morality went on to predict that neglect of the poor would result in one’s own calamity.

This wasn’t a you’d-better-or-else motivational stick, but instead reflected a deep understanding of the plain fact – and you really have to work hard not to see it – that we are all, the rich and the poor, connected in an interdependent web of relationships. In other words, we’re all in this together and it does no good to drill a hole in your neighbor’s side of the boat!

ACTS 10:34-43

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 

39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The message of peace by Jesus Christ has often gotten lost in the Christian crusades for political power, the control of property, and religious dominance. With the name of Jesus on her lips, the official Church has perpetrated violence, condoned apartheid and oppression, and is presently supporting the instruction of fundamentalism in her seminaries and congregations.

If we were to use Jesus’ own evaluative principle, we would have to conclude that the fruits of much contemporary Christianity indicate an unhealthy tree indeed.

In this speech of Peter, which will signal the “second wave” of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2: the Jews; Acts 10: the Gentiles) Jesus is remembered as one who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” He had a teaching ministry as well, of course, but what brought it all down to earth was his daily practice, his manner of life, and his commitment to human liberation.

One wonders what would become of Christianity if his followers today would give their concerned energies to similar goals. What would happen if we made universal benefit (good for the greatest number) and setting people free – from political oppression, psychological depression, emotional attachment, physical addiction, and spiritual ignorance – our overarching objectives?

The peace that Jesus brought to the earth includes peace in the world, peace between neighbors, and peace with God. For him, peace with God is the ground of all else.

                                                                                              

The two principal “schools” of early New Testament Christology (theory of Christ) have been named high and low Christology, with the qualifier indicating the starting-point for interpretation. High Christology started from above, in the divine realm, and defined Jesus as the incarnation of deity. At the other end, low Christology began its consideration of Jesus from below, in the human realm, and defined Jesus in terms of his humanity being “anointed” or “adopted” by the Spirit of God.

It is important to realize that these are not mutually exclusive alternatives; much hardship and bloodshed have resulted from not respecting the paradox. Empire and orthodoxy have little patience for paradox, as it violates (but actually transcends) the binary logic of either/or that is so key to the ideology of power and privilege.

While the Fourth Gospel (John) clearly stands in the tradition of high Christology, Luke (the author of Acts) favors the approach from below.

There are reasons for Luke’s preference, perhaps chief among which is his special concern over the conspiracy of social oppression, violence, and injustice that holds the human spirit in bondage. Again, the difference between Luke and John is instructive: while John’s portrait of Jesus features the revelation of a saving knowledge (the “truth that will set you free”), Luke’s is more focused on confronting the web of dehumanizing prejudice that perpetuates the division between the rich and the poor.

That’s why Luke’s Jesus begins his ministry with the announcement that he brings “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).