“I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Luke 12:19
Wouldn’t the arrogance of the rich man described by Jesus describe the attitude of many people today? Wouldn’t those who accumulate billions for themselves whilst others struggle for survival seem like the man described by Jesus? The response of God to the rich man in the story is to say, “You fool!” Wouldn’t God respond in a similar way to those who believe that vast wealth gives them the right to live life without regard for others?
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed”, says Jesus. How would Jesus respond to the gross inequalities in our world? How would he have responded to the fools whose life consisted in “the abundance of his possessions”?
At the heart of Jesus’ ministry, there is a concern for individual people. Repeatedly, throughout the Gospels he is confronted with large crowds; there are huge numbers with which to deal; yet, time and again, he finds time for individuals. The very people who are overlooked, who are ground down, by economic policies and rigged markets are the very people with whom he identified.
Following Jesus in the Twenty-First Century means going beyond the numbers to being mindful of the people behind the figures. Would Jesus not have felt sympathy for the thousands of ordinary people who are the victims of the system? Would Jesus not have stood alongside those on the zero hours contracts, those on the minimum wage?
Jesus takes the side of the individuals, the ordinary people, but what does the church say?
Ten years ago, in 2009, the Irish political commentator Vincent Browne wrote, “I continue to be intrigued by those who profess to be Christians, yet are not embarrassed by the question of whether Jesus would think such vast disparities in wealth and income were fair. And if Jesus did not think they were fair, why then don’t Christians support doing something radical about it?”
It’s a fair question. If Christians believe in a man who condemned greed and arrogance and who was angry at those who said, “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”, how do Christians think Jesus would have responded to our own times?
There are clear pointers in the New Testament as to what might be the shape of Jesus’ economic programme, if he were a finance minister.
Jesus is concerned about individuals he would be angry at any government that stood back and watched as workers were exploited. Work would be the lynchpin of Jesus’ policy. Work is something good; work is not a necessary evil but something that is done for God. The Letter to the Colossians Chapter 3 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving”.
In Jesus’ economic programme there would be jobs for everyone who was able to work. Jesus would have been mystified at people being caught in welfare dependency. In a biblical model of society, there would be work for everyone. The Second Letter to the Thessalonians Chapter 3 says, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Leaving people trapped by a system that penalises them if they seek to work, that penalises effort, is not a biblical attitude.
Would not a greater degree of equality would be important in a biblically-shaped economic policy? A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Luke Chapter 10 and the First letter to Timothy Chapter 5 say, “The worker deserves his wages.” If people are to be properly rewarded, then there cannot be the huge differentials between the top executive salaries and the weekly wage of the working man.
How can one man put in a week in the comfort of an office and earn millions a year, while a man engaged in hard physical labour gets a few hundred a week for his efforts? If the worker deserves his wages, then the massive differences in rates of pay need to be reviewed.
Saint Paul would have become angry at measures that hurt the weakest in society. In Acts Chapter 20, he says, “You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” ‘Help the weak’ says Paul, not hurt them.
It is not something radical that needs to be done, it is something Biblical. A Biblical policy is one where people matter; where work is a mark of dignity; where there is fairness in reward; where no-one is left in want. It’s not a policy that would be welcomed by those who have done well at the expense of ordinary people, but they didn’t welcome Jesus either.
“You fool”, says God to the rich man. May God give Christians grace to cope with the fools in the present time.