Want a quick test to see if someone knows the Bible? Ask them if Jesus would be out protesting at Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) today. The contention from some religious authorities and media outlets is that Jesus would be right there among the unwashed masses clamoring for free college tuition and a unicorn in every backyard.
That is simply not true.
Jesus cared not one whit about government except insofar as its officials abused their positions to assume positions of religious power. Even then, Jesus didn’t call out the Pharisees for their abuses of secular power but for how they used their power to mislead the people on spiritual matters. Jesus’ famous “Render unto Caesar…” comment was both an utter refusal to play the political game and a reminder to his followers of his true mission. Jesus did not come to Earth to bring political revolution, but spiritual.
When Jesus chased the moneylenders our of the temple, he didn’t do so because they lent money but because they corrupted His Father’s house. Here is the account, from John 2:13-16.
And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.
Again (though some scholars believe this and the accounts in the other two gospels describe a second incident), from Luke 19:45-48:
And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought;
Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Let me toss in a few questions at this point. If Jesus truly detested the moneylenders, why didn’t he continue to pursue them all the way to their places of business? Why didn’t he gather his followers — a considerable number, by the way, since this incident happened right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem — and protest outside the exchange houses? In short, if Jesus was angry at the moneylenders for their predatory usury practices, why didn’t he #OccupyJerusalem?
He didn’t, because that wasn’t his goal. It’s not the goal of the Bible either to build large government institutions to advance social equality or “social justice”. There is, in fact, no Biblical basis for government-based charity for the poor. Every instance of charity you see in the Bible involves individuals or the church. Remember, when Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions, he did not tell him to give the money to the government but directly to the poor.
Further, Jesus specifically endorsed profit with the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In the parable, a rich man gave money to three of his servants — 5 talents to one servant, 2 to the second, and 1 to the third — and went out of town. When he returned, he demanded an accounting from his servants. The servant with five talents had invested it and made five more. His master was pleased and rewarded him. Likewise the servant who was given two talents made two more and was also rewarded. The third servant, however, took his one talent and buried it. He did not lose it, but he did not increase it either. What happened to that servant? His boss called him “wicked and slothful”, took away his money and gave it to the servant who has earned the most. The lesson from Jesus? Those who have will get more and have abundance. Those who have not, and make not, will have theirs taken away. Note that Jesus did not condemn the rich man for rewarding his profitable servants and punishing the unprofitable one. On the contrary. He even had the rich man scold the unprofitable servant for not giving that one talent to the moneylenders so that when he returned, he could have at least gotten his talent back with profit from the interest.
Again, Jesus did not take a choice opportunity to condemn profit-making, even the rather harsh methods used by moneylenders of his day.
But did Jesus talk about government? Not directly, though he did provide a model for how a person should conduct themselfes. In Mark 10:42, Jesus specifically pointed out earthly authorities who “excercise lordship” over those they governed. In the following verses (43-44) Jesus then turned that model upside-down and said that the greatest in his spiritual hierarchy must serve all. In other words, Jesus eschewed those who exercised power and told his followers that the “great” should “minister” to those under them. Is this a specific statement about government? No as such, but Christians used it as a model for representative democracy.
So if Jesus didn’t eschew profit, can we find some passage where the Bible does have something we can apply what has happened on Wall Street and elsewhere these last few weeks? As it happens, it does. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessolanica: “…if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” Disorderly? Working not at all? Busybodies? Sure sounds like the Occupy Whatever protesters to me.
Throughout Jesus ministry he taught each of us to give as we have received, but never, ever to demand what we have not earned. That is a worthwhile lesson for all of us, but it is not one that we can compel by governmental force or mob rule.
Note: This originally appeared as a “Twitter rant” on Saturday. A couple folks suggested I expand it a bit into a blog post. You can read the original tweets in sequence right here on Storify.