Wealth and poverty
How should Christians view the divide
between „rich‟ and „poor‟?
Echoes of „Dives & Lazarus‟.
taught extensively about wealth and its proper
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
[Next week, though, we need to consider more
closely the use of „texts‟ (exegesis, eisegesis,
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
The earliest Christian communities seem to have
practised common ownership of property.
Monastic communities continue this.
[Reflecting the shared ownership in Acts 4:32-
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
Those who have ignored such suffering will go to 'eternal punishment'.
Christians have used this passage to justify a wide range of charitable
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
„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
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.
MAKE POVERTY HISTORY
The campaign has three principal objectives: “trade justice”, “drop
the debt” and “more and better aid” (see its website for more
„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
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
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!