Pope Francis condemned the growing disparity of wealth on Friday. Speaking to a group of United Nations agency leaders, the Pope said the Bible demands an economic system that cares for the “poorest and most excluded.” He asked the leaders to resist participating in an economy of exclusion and to strive to have “a real impact on the structural causes of poverty and hunger.”
The Pontiff’s remarks came just as the Congress is considering President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, and Paul Ryan’s budget that decimates every program that offers assistance to the poor..
Paul Ryan, are you listening? In case you missed it, Congressman, the speech is available online. Perhaps all the self-described Christian members of Congress ought to check it out as well.
“In the case of global political and economic organization, much more needs to be achieved, since an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress and is in fact relegated to the status of second-class citizens,” the Pope said.
Francis said we must be aware of “the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death,” “This,” he asserted, “must lead us to share with complete freedom the goods which God’s providence has placed in our hands, material goods but also intellectual and spiritual ones, and to give back generously and lavishly whatever we may have earlier unjustly refused to others.”
“The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus,” he said, “teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others.”
According to Luke 19:1-10, a rich man named Zacchaeus was overcome by Jesus’ kindness, and thus he publicly proclaimed that he would give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he defrauded in the past, four times over.
“Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to change jobs nor does he condemn his financial activity, Francis said. “He simply inspired him to put everything, freely yet immediately and indisputably, at the service of others.”
That was not the only thing that the Christian Bible teaches us about wealth. In Matthew 19:21, Jesus tells a young man “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven., Also, in Luke 3:10-11, Jesus tells an assembled crowd “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” He also said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
This is why Pope Francis continues to speak out on the disparity of income and wealth. In the United States alone, the richest one percent of the population controls about 40 percent of the country’s wealth and owns about half of all stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. The income of the top one percent saw their income grow by 86.1 percent between 1993 and 2012.
In that same time period, the incomes of the rest of the country—the bottom 50 percent of which own only .5 percent of investments—grew just 6.6 percent. According to a recent study by Oxfam, the 85 richest people on the planet are worth nearly as much as the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population.
Congress has an opportunity to take a small but significant step to address this immoral disparity of wealth. It can start by raising the minimum wage. Then, it can send Paul Ryan’s poor-bashing budget to the compost pile. If Republican Catholics would break with their party and join Democrats, there would be sufficient votes to take these steps. This is a test, is faith more important than politics?