Wealth and poverty How should Christians view the divide between „rich‟ and „poor‟? Echoes of „Dives & Lazarus‟. Jesus taught extensively about wealth and its proper use; marriage and sexual relationships by comparison receive little attention from him. The Christian ethics about crime & punishment or war have to be built on a comparatively slender body of texts – not so the ethics of wealth. [Next week, though, we need to consider more closely the use of „texts‟ (exegesis, eisegesis, etc.).] Jesus‟ example & teaching Jesus had little personal property himself and commended “travelling light” to his disciples. [The 70 were told take little for their missionary journey. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head.] The earliest Christian communities seem to have practised common ownership of property. Monastic communities continue this. [Reflecting the shared ownership in Acts 4:32- 37]. Jesus‟ teaching Jesus‟ teaching is built upon (and is a fulfilment of) OT teaching. For example, take Isaiah:' The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me ….. to bring good tidings to the afflicted; …to bind up the broken- hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.‟ Thus, in prophetic literature, there was an expectation that a transformation of the fortunes of the downtrodden would happen when the Messiah came. In Deuteronomy, there are texts about making provision for the „alien in your midst‟. Many oppressed people use texts like this as a basis for a „liberation theology‟, a set of beliefs about how God intends the oppressed to be set free – for the system of oppression to be over-turned. Jesus‟ teaching i Matthew 5-7: The Sermon on the Mount This important collection of Jesus‟ teachings has a „bias to the poor‟. In Matthew 6.1-4, Jesus advised the rich to give to the poor secretly. In Matthew 6.19-24, Jesus teaches that it is more important to store up “treasure in heaven” than “wealth on earth”. Jesus‟ teaching ii Matthew 25:31-46: The Judgment of the Nations: The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats Matthew's gospel has a picture of the last judgement. The image of a shepherd distinguishing sheep and goats relies upon the fact that they were very difficult to tell apart. Therefore, God is a 'skilled shepherd' in judging human beings' actions. All those who have helped the hungry, thirsty, strangers, those who are naked (i.e. the destitute/homeless), sick or in prison will be rewarded with salvation. Those who have ignored such suffering will go to 'eternal punishment'. Christians have used this passage to justify a wide range of charitable works. Jesus‟ teaching iii Mark 10.17-27: The Rich [Young] Man A rich [young] man approached Jesus wanting to become a disciple. The young man has kept strictly to Jewish law but he is unwilling to give up his many possessions. This shows that he puts wealth before God, which bars him from true discipleship. This makes Jesus‟ disciples wonder whether anyone can be a true disciple. Jesus, however, offers them the grain of comfort that that “for God all things are possible”. Jesus‟ teaching iv Luke 16:19-31: The Rich Man and Lazarus This illustrates the fate of a less conscientious rich man than the one in the Parable of The Rich [Young] Man. This story is about the different fates of a rich man and a poor man whom the rich man ignored during his lifetime. After death, Lazarus, the poor man, is seen in heaven with Abraham by the rich man who is suffering in hell (Hades). He asks Abraham to warn his brothers of their likely fate but Abraham replies that the Law and the Prophets should have taught them the need to help the poor. Jesus‟ teaching v Luke 12:13-21: The Parable of the Rich Fool – another parable about those who are too attached to this world‟s goods. This passage contains a warning to "those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God". It depicts a rich man who congratulates himself on his prosperity and plans to build more barns so that he can enjoy his wealth for many years to come. His complacency is exposed by the fact that he will die that night and never enjoy what he had hoped for. Jesus‟ teaching vi Mark 12.41-44:The Widow’s Mite Jesus observed the rich making large donations to the Temple treasury and a poor widow giving only two small coins (a “mite” was a small coin). Jesus commended the widow for giving from her poverty. Generosity, therefore, is to be gauged not by how much we give in absolute terms but by how much proportionally. Jesus‟ teaching vii Luke 10:25-36: The Parable of the Good Samaritan The Ten commandments were often summarized as “Love God” (the first four) and “You‟re your neighbour” (the other six). A lawyer asks Jesus how to define “neighbour”. Jesus does this by describing how a man left for dead was ignored by the representatives of Judaism - the priest and the Levite - but cared for by a Samaritan, someone who would have been loathed by the Jews. This shows two things: 1. that a Gentile can behave best; and 2. that effectively everyone is our neghbour, not just those of the same family or nationality. Jesus‟ teaching viii Jesus did not always insist on using resources to help the poor, though. He praised the woman who anointed him with expensive ointment in preparation for his death and criticised those who argued that this money would have been better spent on the poor. This may suggest that Christians need to establish priorities. Why did Jesus criticise the wealthy? The survey of Jesus‟ teaching conveys a „bias to the poor‟ although not necessarily a hostility towards the rich (he had compassion on the rich man whom he told to give away his possessions). There may also be an element of hyperbole in Jesus‟ teaching, using forceful examples – exaggeration? – to make his point, to make his audience feel obliged to act. Jesus may well have criticised the wealthy because very few people were wealthy in his society and they often exploited the poor. The North/South divide today provides a modern example of similar extremes of wealth and poverty. The rich ¼ of world‟s population living in the Northern hemisphere consumes 80% of the earth‟s resources. Many Christians believe that this places us in the same position as the exploitative rich that Jesus condemned. The Churches Materialism The Western churches operate in societies that are materialistic, i.e. concerned with the continuous growth of their economies, defining success in terms of wealth. Christianity as an incarnational religion is materialistic, but in another sense. Judaism saw human beings as stewards of the earth‟s resources. The RC Church The wealth of texts about wealth and a long subsequent tradition have profoundly affected what the Christian Churches teach and do. For example: “God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them” (Summary in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993)). The Catechism also teaches that "The Church's love for the poor . . . is a part of her constant tradition" and “Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use.” Quoting St. John Chrysostom, it adds that "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.“ Roman Catholic teaching ii Apart from the Catechism, a succession of popes have made definitive statements (encyclicals) about wealth, poverty, war, peace, and social conditions. The most famous of these are Quadragesimo Anno (1931) Pacem in Terris (1963) and the “constitution” of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, which was the product of four years of consultation among Catholic bishops from Pope John XXIII 1961-1965. (1958-1963) Church of England teaching The Synod [believes] that, as a matter of common humanity and of our mutual interest in survival, the world requires a new and more equitable system of economic relationships between nations. (1981) Church of England teaching ii The C of E also teaches that its members should see themselves as „stewards‟ of the creation (this is based on the Genesis 1.18). This means that they must use its resources responsibly. „Christian Stewardship‟, which „may … be defined as the response which we the Church, collectively and individually, are called to make to God for all that he has given us and done for us, above all in Jesus Christ.‟ The best way to show our appreciation of „ the gift of creation, our own lives, all the resources of the earth, and the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ is to „love back‟: "We love, because he first loved us". Different kinds of aid The consequence of the Churches‟ teaching is a wide range of church originated charitable work. There are also many Christian charities, e.g. Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tear Fund. Different kinds of aid ii Emergency: When a disaster occurs, it is necessary to respond to the emergency immediately. This is emergency aid. Long term: Most charities, while they are concerned to offer emergency help, want to help people to become self-reliant. So, they set up partnerships with local people to improve their conditions. Speaking out/prophetic: Many problems, however, are not going to be sorted out by emergency aid or by helping people to be self- reliant. They are the result of fundamental political and economic injustices which require political or economic action. The abolition of slavery in the early 19th century is a good example of this: it was only after relentless campaigning by William Wilberforce and his supporters that slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Ultimately, it required an Act of Parliament. In the same way, the relief of debt in the developing world, the relief of poverty and ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic are dependent upon international political and economic action. Different emphases MAKE POVERTY HISTORY The campaign has three principal objectives: “trade justice”, “drop the debt” and “more and better aid” (see its website for more details). „Make Poverty History‟ argue that many people earn less each year, however hard they work (over 50% of the world‟s population live on less than $2 a day). This is caused by the rich countries‟ domination of world trade through: „the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These organizations force poor countries to open up their markets to foreign imports and businesses. They also prevent poor countries from protecting their vulnerable farmers and industries (even though such “protectionism” is common in the rich countries).’ This means farms and businesses often fail and basic public services are bought out by investors seeking a quick profit. People find themselves employed as cheap labour with poor, under-regulated work conditions. Different emphases i “drop the debt” and “more and better aid” are related: if you reduce the debt burden, you effectively increase aid. However, many commentators are wary of simply reducing debt or increasing aid as the benefit may go more to the (often corrupt) minority that run their countries and encourage them to continue to govern poorly. For example, it is often asked why the people of Nigeria, one of the world‟s oil rich nations, remain so poor. Some leading economists argue that it is the governments of the Third World which often cause the poverty of their countries. Hernando de Soto, for example, in his influential book The Mystery of Capital argues that making a country prosperous is relatively easy: it “needs only security of life and property, and markets in which property rights can be valued and traded. The West‟s prosperity is built on property and the rule of law; it is the denial of those rights which causes poverty and prevents growth.” In many poor countries, it is very difficult to do business. For example, whereas in Canada and Australia you can have legally set up (incorporated) a company in two days, this process takes 153 days in Mozambique, 203 days in Haiti, or 16 in Algeria. Also, the cost of setting up a company in Denmark is nothing, whereas it costs 1,268 per cent of average income in Sierra Leone or the dposit of the equivalent of 18 years‟ average income in Ethiopia. In Nigeria, recording a property sale involves 21 procedures and takes 274 days. Different emphases ii The economist Muhammad Yunus began making „micro-loans‟ – very small loans - in 1974. He found that many very poor people in Bangladesh trying to start a business, had little chance of success because of the very high rates of interest that they had to pay to money-lenders. So, Yunus decided to make small loans at very low rates of interest and started the Grameen Bank Project in 1976 to do this. Example: Marjina had seen how some of the women in her village had benefited from their relationship with Grameen and finally, with her living conditions at rock bottom, Marjina decided to risk it and take out a loan of 2,500 taka (about £20). She used the money to start her own sewing business and began to produce and sell bags. A year later, having repaid her initial borrowing, she took out a larger loan, which she used to buy a goat, some hens and other livestock. Subsequently she took out a housing loan and built a home for herself and her family. A series of small microfinance loans, combined with determination and hard work, have lifted the Begum family out of poverty: “It feels good to earn money; I am no longer dependent on my husband. I now have self-confidence,” Marjina told me. Different approaches iii Excerpt from article in The Times, by Andrew Mitchell, September 1st, 2006.: Today, the bank is lending in almost 70,000 villages and has more than 6 million customers. Most of its borrowers are women and over 98% of its loans are repaid (far more than a British High Street bank). For this Muhammad Yunus work, Yunus was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. So what should a Christian do? Jesus‟ teaching does not seem to allow us to be neutral about use of wealth. There are plenty of projects that do make a difference (see the work of any of the major agencies). Perhaps, we should be wary of „grand plans‟ (e.g. the critique of Make Poverty History). The example of the Grameen Bank may bee seen as a corrective to „grand plans‟. Over to you!
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