Not so fast. Jesus was not a capitalist, either.
I haven’t said much at this point. It should take no more than 26 consecutive seconds of thought to figure that much out. And yet his name is either implicitly or explicitly used to support one of those views or the other all the time, as if it were the most basic thing about him.
Here’s what we can say about Jesus, at least from the teachings given to us in the four gospels:
- Fiscal liberals will be happy to know that Jesus believed very much in redistribution of resources (“to proclaim the year of jubilee," means nothing other than actual, material debt forgiveness and restoration of inherited lands to the families who were essentially the first century losers of the economic game, Lk. 4:18-19);
- Fiscal conservatives will be happy to know that he never indicated in as many words that a government institution should be entrusted to redistribute appropriately;
- Fiscal liberals and fiscal conservatives can both duke it out over the fact that Jesus didn’t have any awareness of an even faintly democratic system, where at least on paper, everyone gets a say in whether the government should have a role in this, and whatever our personal convictions (I have some strong ones), none of us can say for sure how he would vote on the system we have;
- Fiscal liberals and fiscal conservatives might both be enlightened to know that Jesus almost definitely believed there was far more to changing the world than just arguing for or against a certain broad-brush political ideology (“Give to Caesar what is Caesar's”), but in the same breath, he insisted that corrupt and abusive systems, be they public or private, can sometimes be put in their place with a commitment to nonviolent confrontation and a sense of humor ("but get it out of a fish’s mouth," i.e. Caesar doesn’t own the lakes or the fishes or our lives the way he thinks he does, Mt. 24-27).
If the jury is still out as to what Jesus would advise for our 21st century macro-economic system, he is extremely clear about one thing regarding our micro-economics. Enough is enough.
When you have enough, give the rest to someone else. This simplifies a lot of questions.
How much should we give?
Whatever is more than enough.
Should we give taxes to Caesar?
Sure, if you already have enough.
Was eco-justice, let alone climate change, a timely topic, that Jesus would’ve thought to comment on?
Probably not. So just take from nature whatever is enough and preserve the rest.
Are there modern day politicians and pizza moguls who disagree on how much is enough? Absolutely. But no follower of The Way is really fooled by them.
And besides, who cares what the pagans think? You are an instrument of change. You have a wealth of resources to draw from and make the world around you better for others. The lilies of the field have been clothed in splendor just as the hairs on your head have been counted. You can be freed from this shameful and anxious lie that life is not more than things.
And the point is not that there is a magic number which we all need to agree is enough. The point is that once you start to look at life like this, that number for you will gradually decrease as your gratitude for what you have increases. If you’re a liberal, give. If you’re a conservative, conserve. Greed is neither conservative nor liberal. And gratitude can be both.
Give thanks for enough. And give the rest away.
Cheers and Peace,