I have left only my meager blog with which to respond. So here it is...the column I had planned to submit to the WTE this week but...
An open letter to my fellow Christians (and others) who believe taking from the rich to give to the poor is “robbery.”
Ponder this. Is it "robbery" to tax the very wealthiest to help the poor? Or is it "robbery" to tax us all to fund a war that should have never been fought?
That’s one of the issues behind the debate stirred by a recent column of mine claiming Jesus has a preference for the poor. Many anonymous comments responded on the WTE website, others signed letters to the editor. I welcome the criticism. More importantly, I welcome the dialogue. What the faith community lacks, in my view, is an open, honest, theological reflection.
Churches don’t often provide much of a forum for the testing of ideas. Those with questions are often discouraged from asking the toughest. A diet of pabulum may feed the spiritually hungry but it doesn’t fill them. Pabulum is not only bland food for infants, it’s also “unsatisfying intellectual material: material whose intellectual content is thin, trite, bland, or generally unsatisfying.”
The answer to the “robbery question," like all answers for which Christians seek an answer is found in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. That includes the question, "Does Jesus have a preference for the poor?" The Bible says yes. The Jesus I learned about in Sunday school most certainly does. He’s the one who healed the sick, fed the hungry, defended those who were rejected and challenged their oppressors. Some who questioned my argument replied that Jesus loved and hung out with everyone, preferred no one. Truly he loved everyone. And he did hang out with the rich folks occasionally…like when he urged them to sell what they own and give the money to the poor and warned that for them, getting into Heaven would be akin to a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
His first sermon brought his purpose into focus. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." That sermon nearly got him killed three years ahead of schedule.
How do we know Jesus had a preference for the poor? By reading the scripture. Biblical scholars count more than 300 verses directly addressing the needs of the poor. The Jesus who said we would know the Father if we knew him was not just talking about “poor in Spirit.” He spent his time with those on the margins. He tells the parable of a rich man and a poor one, and how the poor man goes to heaven and the rich man doesn’t. He tells of others who’ll be surprised they didn’t get into paradise because they didn’t take care of him when he was naked, hungry or in prison. Indeed, that was the judgment parable.
God said, “If there is a poor man among you…you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him.
True, Jesus said nothing about tax policy, but was clear about the hearts of those who have. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Luke 12:48. It’s odd for some who otherwise take parts of scripture literally to suggest Jesus would be happy with politicians who deprive the poor while providing for the rich.
It’s even more odd that some believe it to be “robbery” to tax those who have to help those who don’t? Why do they not ascribe “robbery” to the taking of money from rich and poor alike to make war? Dwight Eisenhower did. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”
The real “robbery” is not the money spent helping the poor. It’s the money spent to make war. Jesus would have no difficulty in seeing that. Sadly, some of his followers do.