It has become a bit of a trope in some circles that Jesus speaks about money more than anything else, and therefore Christian may (or must?) use financial policy and the force of law to produce a more socially just society–the implication being that a certain distribution of income, unspecified, is biblical and is what Jesus would want. It is true, of course, that the early Christian community in Acts in Jerusalem shared resources and income among themselves. But that does not address how Christians deal with these issues in the the public square or our pluralistic national political life.
According to a study aid in Zondervan’s new NIV Quickview Bible, the number of verses for each topic, including money, addressed by Jesus in the Gospels breaks down this way:
717 on the Spiritual Life
323 on the Last Judgment
198 on Sin and forgiveness
123 on the Kingdom of God
52 on Money and treasure
44 on Marriage and family
34 on His Death and Resurrection
25 on His Deity
When I hear the call to focus on the money verses when it comes to political engagement, I think of parable of the Rich Fool. While it rightly should be read and pondered by every capitalist Christian simply because it is true and an unvarnished warning against the power of Mammon–it is IMPOSSIBLE for a man to serve Mammon and the Lord, it is not the final answer to our political debates. Hardly.
The introduction to this parable, not quoted nearly as often as the parable itself, gives a clear look into the mind of Christ on these matters:
One of the multitude said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed, and beware of all coveteousness…” (Luke 12:13-15)
If the capitalist and others are warned against building bigger barns in which to hoard their wealth, those having grievances–we’re not told nor Jesus even seem interested whether or not the brother had a just claim–are warned against the temptations of coveteousness–equally soul-destroying.
While it appears “unfair” in some cases that someone has a lot more money than his neighbor (and maybe the rich guy did absolutely nothing to earn it), the temptation to seize the money and redistribute it is giving in to a deadly temptation. What Jesus refuses to do some Christians wish to empower Caesar to do–ironically in the name of serving Christ, who refused to do it.
The Christian is called to mercy and compassion: he should be overly generous with his resources. God will judge us for the use of our funds. That should be preached. To whom more has been given will more be required. Turning to Caesar to force that to happen is not really Christian and certainly not evangelical, that is, from the Gospels. Unless Jesus has changed his mind and has authorized someone to redistribute the Mammon.