02 November 2008

the redistribution of wealth and the legacy we claim

The "redistribution of wealth" has been getting a lot of bad press lately. I am going to pretend that most of us are against the idea because we already are giving beyond our means to those who are lacking while we sit in our abundance.

Why do I hear laughing?

Seriously, though, let's depoliticize the phrase "redistribution of wealth". Remove from it incendiary barbs about socialism or feigned patriotism that would be associated with increased taxes on the wealthy. This statement cannot be about whether we want the government to help us with giving away our money. Remove those associations and just take the phrase for what it is in all of it's simplicity...

Deep breath...slowly...read it again: "Redistribution of wealth"

For those of us who claim to follow Christ, the redistribution of wealth is our legacy.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

For those of us who claim Christ, the redistribution of our lives in the service of those who lack is the highest calling we have.

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For 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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"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.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Stepping back from the politics of our day and returning to the groaning world around us, we can use today to retrain our focus on the sacrifice we are called to and the legacy we inherited when we were called children of God. The least of these are waiting...

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. In full disclosure, I am by point of reference a political conservative, but I appreciate your argument. I'm currently getting my Master's in Political Science, so really any of the "hot topics" snatched up by the media are raised to a deafening roar on essentially a weekly basis for me. Wealth, to me, always seemed like a much more complex concept than we often imagine. It's like "sweet," or better yet, "evil." We cannot really place a finger on what the former is without the "bitter" and certainly not on the latter without an understanding of the "good." Wealth, to me, is also a term defined by its association. We know we are wealthy because there is so much poverty.

    So what am I getting at? The kind of redistribution someone might advocate depends on their understanding of wealth. Pastor Harris' message was great on this. God doesn't ask that you get rid of everything, only that you care for the least among you, for the "FHBs," as some call them.

    What is so frustrating about wealth is that those who seem to have the most of it seem to do so little with it outside of themselves. This is certainly true. The reason it makes such a great impression when people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates give away a huge amount (but small percentage) of their money is because most of their peers don't think twice about giving.

    The frustrating part for Christians is that we would all love to live in a world where "redistribution" can happen, but at the same time, we have all grown in a system founded on the virtues of individualism. There is a duality to political development, particularly in America, where the morality of religion and the perceived virtues of selfishness are constantly at odds. And in the end, which side really wants to topple the system? Reform is a far cry from redesign. As Christians, we can push for all believers to give, but how can we truly change the system?

    Perhaps I am too pessimistic. Maybe that's the conservative in me. But I don't think that we are likely to see changes on anything close to the scale of redistribution until we can find a perfect system. Charity is a wonderful, vital thing for our society. But our society is a secular one. We can interact with it and work to change it. But our goal is to save souls, not society. It is what Christians do to meet the needs of the poor that reaches them. There is no relationship in governmental redistribution, no connection.

    Here, there seems to be a disconnect between what Jesus advocated and what current politicians are speaking about. If the system could become more human, we would all advocate redistribution, but this is just not the case. In a year where candidates spent more than a billion dollars just on trying to convince people to like them, I do not see too much hope for change, to use two overused words this election season. Christianity changes the world through relationships; governments don't. That's why redistribution remains a promising, but ultimately elusive concept in politics. Christians redistributed; Rome did not.