In any political conversation, especially where the issue or “morality” comes up, debaters outside the Christian philosophy quote rather eloquently Jesus’ vehement defense of the poor in political and religious matters. Fundamentalists probably know this too, but for whatever reason, ignore it. Nowhere is this omission more obvious than in the dialog around “Capitalism,” and the “government support of the poor. Superstar fundamentalists have been falling over themselves to vilify the “99 Percent,” while defending corporations. After Pope Francis proclaimed that capitalism doesn’t help the poor, the Christian-Right nearly lost its mind, even going so far as to proclaim that the Pope was, at best, misguided, at worst, a fascist.
Comparing the socioeconomic politics of Jesus day to our own, we get the picture that things haven’t changed much in two thousand years. It’s true that we have smarter technology, but we’re not learning from our mistakes.
The world in which Jesus grew up, and which he railed against was very similar to our own. While American isn’t “occupied” as Israel was by Rome, it is ruled by corporations who operate very similar to Roman occupiers. They ruthlessly rule the world and decimate nations, enslaving the people—literally.
In Jesus’ Judea, Rome ruled supreme controlling every aspect of Jewish life and they used money to control the people… even in Jewish religious practices.
To the Jew, nothing was more sacred than the office of the high priest. It was the high priest alone who could enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and represent Israel before God. In Jesus’ Judea, this Jewish High Priests, such as Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas, bought their way into this office, bribing the Roman prefect to let them hold the most sacred office in the land—and they held this post only so long as they were willing to proclaim Rome’s legitimacy… a.k.a. Fox “news.”
Judea’s ruling class, their 1 Percent, had a very devious way of increasing their wealth. They used their wealth as leverage to steal the resources of Judea’s farmers and landowners, all they while pretending to help.
A local farmer would have a rough year financially and would approach one of these wealthy “rulers” (as in the Rich Young Ruler) for a loan. The ruler would loan this farmer just enough money so that he could barely pay the lender back—which meant that they couldn’t pay back the interest. So the borrower, to pay the interest, had to borrow more money. The lender would increase the interest and decrease the loan.
Eventually the farmer could no longer keep up on his payments so the lender “foreclosed” on him. He and his family became servants (slaves) to the “ruler” who now owned the farmer’s property, took his profits, and changed the farmer rent for what used to be his land. But it didn’t stop there. The farmer didn’t earn enough wages from his new boss to pay his rent, so his boss took possession of the farmer’s children, who became personal slaves and could be sold to pay off “debts.”
The Great Sanhedrin, Israel’s Supreme Court in Jerusalem, was overseen by these robber-barons. Their ultimate purpose during the time of Rome was not to offer justice to those seeking it; but to guarantee Rome that there would be no Jewish uprising. Any uprising would result in severe consequences on the wealthy just as on the revolutionaries.
This was Jesus’ world and his relationship with money is complicated. He was friends with many rich people. Wealthy women supported him. Despite that, he railed against the rich.
What really seemed to bother Jesus wasn’t money, but the underhanded tactics used to get it; and he especially railed against those who got their money on the backs of the poor and defenseless. In fact, we have no record of Jesus attacking a wealthy person for taking advantage of another wealthy person—but we have volumes of him railing against the mistreatment of the poor.
One has to wonder, were Jesus here today, would he recognize any difference between Rome and Wall Street—between the Jewish leaders, and our own Republican leaders. If Jesus were here, would we find him marching in Moral Mondays, or protesting Fox “news” as whores to the Romans; whitewashed sepulchers; dens of vipers; of your father the devil…?
Maybe, just maybe, Jesus would walk into Congress and overthrow the lobbyist’s tables.