Any warning directed against America has to begin with a frank discussion of capitalism. I’ve already quoted my September 11th sermon, which neatly summarizes the Christian case against this wicked philosophy. So, when a beggar comes up to you on the street and asks you for money, you give him some if you have it. Is this being taken out of context?
“Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)
“Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away.” (Luke 6:30)
The discourse in Mathew is the most famous; it’s called the Sermon on the Mount because we’re told at the beginning of Matthew 5 that Jesus went up on a mountain. In Luke 6:17 we’re told that he stood on a level spot and preached; it’s called the Sermon on the Plain. These are two different sermons! The content is mostly the same because Jesus preached for three and a half years, yet all four Gospels can be read in a day. He preached the same message over and over, in different times and in different places, and the evangelists who wrote the Gospels recorded a respective sample of his teachings. Nearly identical passages like Matthew 5:42 and Luke 6:30 should not be taken as meaningless repetition; the fact that they echo each other so closely serves to reinforce their importance, as does repetition of the same concepts in completely different contexts:
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’
“The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers , you did it to me.’ Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’
“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
What happens at McDonald’s is immoral. When a Christian walks in the door and asks for a hamburger, you had better not be the guy behind the counter who turns him away because he has no money. Perhaps you can direct him to a nearby soup kitchen, or pay for the burger yourself, but indifference is simply not acceptable. Read the passage again. Does it matter whether somebody fed him later?
How do we eat, then? Who provides the hamburgers if we just give them away for free?
They took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron in the wilderness; and the children of Israel said to them, “We wish that we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots, when we ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us out into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Then said Yahweh to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from the sky for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law, or not.”
“That I may test them!” God will provide! If we are obedient! If we will walk in his law! For Christians, Matthew 5, Luke 6, Luke 12, Matthew 25 are all part of the law!
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I don’t make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time!”
When he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough. Now, O Yahweh, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”
He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat!”
He looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on the coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and laid down again. The angel of Yahweh came again the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”
He arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the Mount of God.
(1 Kings 19:7-8)
Scripture abounds with stories of miraculous feeding. “Give us this day our daily bread” was never made more real than when…
Jesus came out, saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things. When it was late in the day, his disciples came to him, and said, “This place is deserted, and it is late in the day. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages, and buy themselves bread, for they have nothing to eat.”
But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They asked him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give them something to eat?”
He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go see.” When they knew, they said, “Five, and two fish.”
He commanded them that everyone should sit down in groups on the green grass. They sat down in ranks, by hundreds and by fifties. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke the loaves, and he gave to his disciples to set before them, and he divided the two fish among them all. They all ate, and were filled. They took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and also of the fish. Those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Still, aren’t I taking all of this out of context? We can’t make bread and fish appear out thin air like Christ! We have to be good stewards, right? We can’t just give all of our money away, can we? Actually, a better question to ask is whether we can afford not to.
Just then a man came up to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good deed should I do to have eternal life?” Jesus asked him, “Why ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you want to get into that life, you must keep the commandments.” The young man asked him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You must not murder, you must not commit adultery, you must not steal, you must not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘you must love your neighbor as yourself.'” The young man told him, “I have kept all of these. What do I still lack?” Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the destitute, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come back and follow me.” But when the young man heard this statement he went away sad, because he had many possessions.
A common objection to a literal interpretation of this passage is that Jesus intended this teaching for a particular young man, not as a generic commandment applicable to all disciples. This doesn’t withstand careful scrutiny, though, because we find a very similar instruction again in a completely different context:
He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they don’t sow, they don’t reap, they have no warehouse or barn, and God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds! Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height? If then you aren’t able to do even the least things, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious. For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek God’s Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Not only are we again told to sell our possessions and give to the poor, not only is it now the disciples themselves being exhorted rather than a rich hanger-on, but at the beginning of this passage, we find exhortations against work! The birds do not work, but God feeds them! The lilies do not work, but God clothes them!
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You aren’t able to serve God and money.”
Here we begin to see the Christian work ethic! After becoming disciples, we are to live according the Gospel and that means putting God in charge. We are not called to be slackers, although this world will call us that because they measure the entire value of a human being in how much money you’ve got.
Many people suppose that Christ worked as a carpenter. Not only is this unsupported by any Scripture, but one wonders how Christ could have done this consistent with his own teachings. Clearly, he did not work for money, only for God, did not turn away anyone asking for food, drink, shelter or clothing, gave what he had to the poor, and trusted in God to provide for his needs. Nowhere in any account are we told that he had any kind of job. In fact, he was homeless (Mat 8:20) and penniless (Mat 17:24-27). Furthermore, while we have no records of how Jesus lived before his ministry, we most certainly have records of how his disciples lived after it!
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. From from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostle’s feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
What good does it do, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but does not prove it with actions? This kind of faith cannot save him, can it? Suppose a brother or sister does not have any clothes or daily food and one of you tells them, “Go in peace! Stay warm and eat heartily.” If you do not provide for their bodily needs, what good does it do? In the same way, faith by itself, if it does not prove itself with actions, is dead.
Christians need to take a different perspective. It isn’t enough to just get a job. We need to do the work that we are called to by God. This doesn’t mean sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. We have God-given talents that enable us to be productive members of society. Although I am grateful to my friends and supporters for providing me with food, shelter, clothing, a computer and electricity, I absolutely hate sitting around this house typing on this machine all day. I’m a really good math teacher, and there’s no good reason why I shouldn’t be teaching during the day and writing for a few hours every evening. Instead, I live in a country that tells me to go flip hamburgers until I’ve purchased a college degree. I’m not too proud to flip hamburgers, either. I’ll do it for a soup kitchen, but not for a business that refuses to feed people unless they have money.
God provides for our needs, both as individuals and as a society. We have plenty of math and science teachers, it’s the administration of our schools that refuses to use them unless they jump through hoops with a price tag on each one. We have ample energy reserves, and talented scientists who will develop new ones as current supplies are depleted, but those scientists can’t get funding without a business plan to patent and exploit new technologies for profit. We have immigrants lined up at our borders willing to do almost any job we would ask of them. We have plenty of farmers, fisherman, doctors, policeman, fire fighters, EMTs, machinists, chemists, computer programmers, web designers, airline pilots and journalists, not to mention artists, musicians, actors, and athletes. There’s no need for some economic system, either capitalist or communist, to regulate all human behavior, if we will simply live in obedience to God.
What would such a society look like? Our churches would be left unlocked, and most people would begin their day with worship. Anyone who wanted food or clothing, tools or transportation, would just need to ask for it, no money required. All the books in our libraries would scanned in, freely available to anyone who wants to read them on-line. Why would people give freely like that? Because we’re all disciples, we’re all working for God, and even if we fumble around and make some mistakes, we know that we’re all working for the same boss. Jesus called it the kingdom of God.
The choice is not between capitalism and communism. Both philosophies postulate the need for human behavior to be regulated, either by the government or by the marketplace. Both force you to work for a system, and that means doing what you’re told. Both proclaim that anyone who isn’t working for the system is a deadbeat. You don’t do the work you want to do. You don’t do the work you’re qualified to do. You don’t do what you’re called to by God. You do what you’re told.
How did we get here? People want freedom, but they don’t want the Gospel. Nobody tells them what to do; no God, and no government. You can give all your money away, it’s your choice. You have freedom; I have freedom. Don’t tell me what to do. People who won’t work for money are cast out and treated with contempt. They’re accused of being “too proud” to work, and despite all our rhetoric of individual freedom, this society is absolutely determined to break the individual and force him to submit. Its favorite tactic is throw you homeless on the streets and ignore you.
You want freedom. You want to work for yourselves. In fact, you spend forty hours a week, the best fifty years of your life, working for a system. You give up on freedom by the time you’re thirty, and if you won’t give it up voluntarily, then you get crushed. You start talking about getting married and having a family, about how you aren’t going to work so hard and make time for your kids instead. Now you just show up at your job, do what you have to do, and pin all your hopes on raising the next generation to have it better than you did. You’ll pamper them until they’re twenty, then get sick of them asking for money all of the time. The reason they keep asking you for money is because they want all that freedom you promised them, and they’re old enough now to want it for themselves and not you. They don’t dress up in cute little soccer uniforms now, they don’t play catch in the yard, it isn’t cool to hang out with Mom and Dad anymore. They want their own apartment now, and money for food and games and sex and drugs. So you switch to “tough love”, break them by the time they’re thirty, celebrate their birthdays and weddings and graduations if they’ll cave, and shake your head and wonder what you did wrong if they end up smoking crack and sleeping under a bridge instead.
You’re not raising them to be better. It’s a vicious cycle, and you’re raising them to be just the same. Some break, some waste away, some riot in the streets and scream for freedom. Hard core Christian disciples won’t work for the system, either, but it’s not because of pride, or a misplaced conception of freedom. It’s because the system is immoral, and we work for God.
Then let God take care of us?
God does take care of us.