Capitalism has become the Right’s new religion. It’s preached on Fox “news,” lauded from the pulpits of mega-churches, and defended in the halls of Congress; ironically, by the same people who claim Jesus as their “lord and savior.” When Pope Francis, Christ’s representative on earth, pointed out some of the flaws of capitalism, it was Christians who condemned this radical view, even going to far as to call the Pope fascist.
Yet all one has to do is spend about ten minutes in the Synoptic Gospels to realize that Jesus wasn’t particularly comfortable with any system that elevated above all else. And he doesn’t hide his disdain for the wealthy and their treatment of the poor. In fact, his metaphors and images on the subject can be quite disturbing. And nowhere is his attitude more apparent than in his parables. Take, for example, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
There are two characters described in this story, and you’ve heard of them. One is the “Job Creator,” and the other is the “Taker,” a.k.a. the “47 percent.” The Job Creator wore purple, lived in luxury, and hobnobbed with the elite.
Visible to him, just outside his door, in fact, was The Taker, homeless, hungry, and suffering. The Job Creator passed this man every day on his way home. As an actor, when reading a script, we might deduce that the Job Creator was completely indifferent to The Taker’s plight, if he thought anything about it at all.
After the introductions, Jesus makes a very significant observation—something that the Job Creator should have been anticipating, even preparing for: the end of his story. Death comes to us all: rich and poor, good and bad, the Job Creators and The Takers alike—and IN death, we are all equalized. But in Jesus tradition, there was also the possibility of reward or punishment, based on the person’s “actual” worth, and here comes another striking irony. In life, the Job Creator had value: he was worth millions, maybe even billions. Yet once death had equalized him, it placed him in the valley of the valueless.
In Jesus’ story, The Taker had the value, and he invokes the great patriarch of Israel, Abraham to make that point.
In torment, the Job Creator begged Abraham to send The Taker to provide him relief. Abraham, on the other hand, informed the Job Creator that he had his whole lifetime to prepare for this, and he chose, instead, to treasure his wealth—something that had no actual value at all. “Basically,” Abraham chastised, “you received your good things while you were alive, while giving nothing to The Taker.” So now, The Taker becomes the receiver.
Yet again we can deduce, as an actor reading a script, another level to this story. We can observe that even in death, even in torment, even with no value whatsoever, the Job Creator expected that Lazarus should be at his disposal. He never bothered to even acknowledge Lazarus, instead, he called upon Abraham to do his bidding. We could even consider that the Job Creator was trying to apply his leverage even against Abraham, thus attempting to control him as well.
When it didn’t work, the Job Creator “begged,” according to Jesus, Abraham to send Lazarus to his family, finally showing some actual humility. More irony: just as The Taker had begged every day at his gate to no avail, he would now beg Abraham, and while he ignored Lazarus, Abraham did, in fact, acknowledge him. He had five brothers. If only they could see Lazarus, they would listen, they would come around.
Abraham’s admonishment is rather interesting. He reminded the Job Creator that his brothers already HAD been warned: over and over again. In fact, they even claimed to know (and presumably to believe) exactly what the Job Creator was hoping Lazarus could tell them. They had Moses, the prophets. They embraced Moses, they followed Jewish law, and they were righteous. They were good conservatives. They believed this stuff. It was known to them. They claimed that they already embraced it. So the problem, according to Abraham (and Jesus) was that they simply didn’t take what they said they believed seriously.
These are poignant ideas that get glossed over in the retelling of this story. But there are more: like what was the Job Creator’s actual crime? Jesus doesn’t say—or does he? Well, he was rich. A point is brought home by the way Jesus chose to define him: “A Rich Man.” Notice that he gave Lazarus a name, but he did not give the Job Creator one. In life the Job Creator was respected and revered. He would be known by many, and his name alone would generate respect. Yet Jesus stripped him of his name, and instead, called him a “rich man.”
In life, the Job Creator had a name… in death, it was never used. In life, the Job Creator was valued and respected. In death, he was a beggar. In life, the Job Creator was a pious, religious, and a good conservative. In death, not even Abraham considered him worthy.