Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10 Oppressions Our Society Performs

Top 10 Oppressions as expressed by the First Century Prophets

10. Not paying temporary laborers at the end of the day67

9. Treating the wealthy as more important than the poor among God’s people68

8. Investing wealth, saving for the future instead of giving it to the poor69

7. Ignoring the poor in need you see70

6. Keeping our excess when others are in need71

5. Denying shelter to the homeless

4. Denying food to the hungry

3. Denying healing to the sick

2. Denying companionship to the isolated72

1. Treating the poor as outcasts, unworthy of equality73

Most of these oppressions are sins of greed.  In our society today, "greed is good" and selfishness provides benefit.  However, in the community of Jesus, greed is the worst of all evils, miserliness sends you to hell faster than almost any other sin.  Clearly, the majority of the church today has a different perspective than the first century church.

Many people talk about the harshness of the law and how different the New Testament is.  But in the area of giving to the poor, meeting the needs of the needy, there is a perfect continuity.  It is the responsibility of the wealthy to share with the needy.  Whether it be for the reason of the deliverance from oppression one has experienced, or because of love for another in need, the result is the same.

67. James 5:1-5
68. James 2:1-9
69. Luke 12:16-33
70. Luke 16:19-25 ; I John 3:16-17
71. I Corinthians 8:13-15; Luke 3:11
72. Matthew 25:31-46.  I didn’t include the prison statement, because visiting people in prison meant something different in the first century than today.  In the first century, family and friends had to supply food and water for the imprisoned, and so visiting wasn’t just a social connection, but a matter of survival. This is not to say that prison ministry isn’t important—it is essential.  But it would also mean visiting those in nursing homes and those who cannot leave their homes for a variety of reasons.
73. Romans 12:16

Did Jesus Beat Up the Rich?

It must be admitted, as we saw in the last post, Jesus was a little tough on the rich.  And it did seem to be a little sweeping.  Why did Jesus and James seem to be so hard on this particular social class?  I mean, did they do something so wrong?  And to thoroughly condemn them seems to be a bit excessive. 

            There is a definitive reason for this that can be described in four points:

1. God commands the wealthy to use their wealth for the poor
This is a consistent ethic throughout the Scripture, as we have seen above.  There are three main sections of Hebrew Scripture: The Law, The Prophets and the Writings.  The Law commands loans and alms to be given to the poor.63  The Prophets command the poor to be assisted or God would not bless them.64  The Writings speak of the dangers that happen to the wealthy if they do not give to the poor. 65  This is not a minor theme, nor is it easily ignored.  This does not mean that the majority of Bible teachers do not have on their blinders, looking only at their theological focus, but it is clearly at the heart of loving one’s neighbor in the OT.

2. Jesus is prophetically commanding an ethic of love
Jesus is not so much establishing a new law, as he is interpreting the Mosaic Law through the rose-colored lens of acting for the benefit of everyone.66  And Jesus’ ethic is not based in the realm of emotions, but in bold action.  Part of this action, an aspect that Jesus repeats a few times, is the need of the wealthy to give of what they have to the poor.  Jesus isn’t erasing the old Law and simply writing his own over the stone tablets—he is simply re-commanding what is already a part of God’s ethic.  This is so much so that Abraham, in one of Jesus’ parables, stated that the wealthy giving to the poor was so clearly commanded in “Moses and the Prophets:” that it should be obvious to everyone.67

3. The wealthy only occasionally give to the poor
The command of God was not being obeyed by the wealthy.  Surely, some wealthy gave the occasional alms, and a few would assist their poor relatives.  But the heart of the command was being ignored.  Beggars lined the street, and many poor languished and suffered for their poverty.  All the while, the wealthy not only ignored them, but they condemned them.  “They must be judged by God.”  “Repent and get right with God and you will have what you need!”  Instead of the poor being assisted by the wealthy, they were ostracized by them.

4. The wealthy are judged by God
Jesus makes it clear that there are wealthy who are righteous, a part of God’s people.  But these are the wealthy who surrender their wealth, not keeping it for themselves.68  The wealthy are to remember that their wealth is not their own, but loaned to them by their Banker, God.  When God gave them the loan, He said, “You are to give any excess you have to the poor and needy—do not keep it for yourself.”  But the wealthy ignored their Banker and used the money for themselves.  The Banker kept an eye on the accounts, until finally an accounting day came—and the Banker took back everything he had given, and more.  The wealthy are not God’s favorites.  They have been blessed by God, but that blessing comes with a condition—use the blessing for the benefit of those who most need it. 69

Jesus was not interested in "beating up" the wealthy.  Rather, he was calling them to repent of keeping their wealth for their own power, but instead to give it to those who need it the most.  He is not saying this because he dislikes wealthy people, but because he loves them and he wants to see them have all the blessings of God.  When Jesus said that he came to "seek and save the lost" it was in the context of him convincing a wealthy man to surrender his wealth to the poor. 70

Wealth (just like fame and power) is not actually a blessing for Christians, but in reality a test.  It is a test to see if one would use the wealth as God sees fit, or would use it as the world sees fit—to increase one’s power, comfort or wealth, or to surrender it to those who need it most.  C.S. Lewis passed the test (he gave the majority of his wealth to charity, choosing to live on a limited income).  Rick Warrens passed the test (he gives more than 90% of his wealth to charity, going to the poorest in the world).  Mother Theresa famously passed the test, surrendering her life for the poor.

            I mention these exceptions, although they are rare.  The far majority of Christians who face this hardest of all tests fail miserably.  They make excuses why they should use their wealth for themselves.  They make excuses not to give to the poor.  In this way, the wealthy have become disfavored and rejected by God.  And so Jesus and James and others in the New Testament have harsh words to say to them.  Because their wealth they spend on themselves is not a sign of God’s blessing, but rather of their disobedience and arrogance.  Of their failure.

63. e.g. Deuteronomy 15:4-11

64. e.g. Jeremiah 5:28-29

65. e.g. Psalm 41:1-3; Proverbs 21:13

66. This is the point of the “You have heard it said” section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  Each law or interpretation of the law is re-interpreted by the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Then Jesus wraps up by saying that only the leaders who obey the love command are to be listened to, the rest are false prophets (Matthew 7:12-23).

67. Luke 16:19-31, esp. v. 29

68. Mark 10:21-25; Luke 19:1-10.  It is interesting that Job and Abraham are often given as examples of people who were wealthy but named righteous before God.  It is clear in Scripture that part of the reason they were righteous is because they generously gave to the poor and immigrants. Genesis 18:2-8; Job 29:11-16.

69. Luke 16 is the primary focus for this understanding.  In the parable of the unrighteous steward, Jesus interprets as a person using money that was not his own to make friends of the poor so he would be helped when he was poorer than they.  Jesus also in that chapter, uses the example of the rich man who didn’t help Lazarus, a destitute beggar at the rich man’s gates, and so was brutally punished in the afterlife.

70. Luke 19:1-10

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Dangerous Book

A rich man's wealth is his strong city, And like a high wall in his own imagination.
The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.
The rich man is wise in his own eyes, But the poor who has understanding sees through him.
Proverbs of Ancient Hebrew writings, also known as Proverbs 18:11; Ecclesiastes 5:12; and Proverbs 28:11

Good morning, my brothers.  I am honored that you have chosen me to speak to you, the All-Wealthy Fathers Under Liberty,  for I have been concerned about our plight for some time.  We have been subjected to oppression long enough! (Cheers in the crowd.)  I was shocked last week to hear Brother Steven’s speech on hate crime in motion pictures.  Up until this point, I have enjoyed the James Bond movies—but no more.  Now I understand that they are simply anti-rich propaganda, intended to throw suspicion upon the good brothers who have worked hard to obtain their wealth.  How dare they make Dr. No or the other villains wealthy?  All of them?  Clearly, just as our brother has pointed out, it is simple prejudice and jealousy! (More cheers.)  I thank Brother Arnold for his insider’s view and especially for his work in banning these films, as well as any others which portray the wealthy according to stereotypes, instead of the truly honorable men we are.  Let the media put the specter of suspicion where it belongs—on the government and the poor!  (More cheers.)  Let us bring back more wholesome programming, such as Schindler’s List and The Millionaire! (More cheers.)

            As serious as the prejudice found in movies is, there is yet another, more insidious cultural influence that we must be concerned about.  Movies and magazines, television and newspapers, and, of course, the internet—all have their various forms of prejudice and oppression against the rich and all need to be influenced, such as our Brother Rupert, Brother Ted and Brother Bill have done.  But there is another, greater influence that has been all but overlooked.  There is a medium that has been influential, not just for decades, a century or a century and a half, but for millennia!  It has been used by the enemies of the rich, oppressing us and destroying us since time immemorial!  It is the cause of many of the wars against the rich—The Lombard uprising of the 1400s in England, the Thirty Years War in Germany in the 1500s, and it is still used as a primary inspiration of the Marxists in Latin America today!  And while you may think that these events are too out of touch with our current structure, I need to inform you that this medium—this dangerous piece of literature—is in the majority of homes in the United States.  Right now.  And many of you have read this book, yea, even quoted this book.  By now, you have probably guessed what I am speaking about, but you dare not say its name, nor even think it.  Yes, that’s right, I am speaking of the Bible—the New Testament in particular. 

            Perhaps some of you are ready to stand up and speak against me now, because I am speaking ill of a book that you hold so dear.  Perhaps some are ready to walk out on me, because much of your wealth—the very reason you are here—has come in part because of your talent in speaking on this particular book.  I do not begrudge your use of it, Brothers—especially our dear Brother Robert and Brother Benny.  I appreciate your skill and tact in opening this book and carefully directing the thoughts of those who read it.  You religious leaders have been essential to our cause, and our most important supporters!  You have succeeded to make wealth popular and important among your people with greater success than any of us have!  We thank you for your work! (Scattered clapping throughout the hall.)  But we must also recognize how dangerous this book is.

            The Bible is a complex and multi-faceted piece of literature.  It is sixty-six different books, written by a variety of authors over at least a thousand years.  Their perspectives vary, as do the issues they discuss.  With this, there is much for anyone to expound upon with safety.  There are examples of wealthy people who are heroes in this collection of scrolls—Abraham, Jacob, Boaz, Job, Solomon and Esther.  However, even these are marginal victories.  Abraham and Job are seen as righteous, not because of their wealth, but because of their generosity, faith and sacrifice.  Boaz is righteous for assisting a poor, illegal immigrant.  Solomon is famous for his wisdom, but ultimately rejected for his disobedience of God’s law and idolatry. Esther is of an oppressed racial minority, which is the real focus of her story.  And Jacob is displayed as obtaining his wealth through deceit and the power of God, and suffering greatly in his later life because of his trickery early in his life. 

            In the Old Testament, where all of these stories take place, there are dangerous themes that crop up now and again.   We have a sympathetic woman, gaining a child after praying for so many years, saying, “The weapons of the powerful are cast down and the weak take up strength.”47   One of the many psalmists say, “Better is the little of the righteous than the wealth of the wicked.”48  In the book of Proverbs it says, “Give me neither poverty nor wealth, lest I become arrogant and say, ‘Who is God?’”49  Another psalmist says, “These are the wicked who have increased in wealth.” 50

            In the prophets of the Old Testament, the danger to us increases.  Ezekiel says that the sins of Sodom is that the city was wealthy and arrogant, refusing to help the poor and needy.51  Jeremiah says that the wealthy in his day became so because of deceit.52  Micah claims that the rich of his day were “full of violence”.53  Of course, this is blatant prejudice, painting all the wealthy with the same stroke. 

Nevertheless, the Old Testament is not problematic overall.  None of these passages must be thought of as speaking of the rich in general.  While there seems to be a theme—especially that of obtaining wealth through violence and deceit—it is not consistent, and we can avoid such pitfalls by our Bible-brokers speaking of these cases as being rare, while most wealthy are good and right before God.

            The real problem comes in the New Testament.  This is a revolutionary text, and I do not mean that positively.  It is speaking from the perspective of the disorderly elements of society, those that disrupt the proper flow of economics and authority.  As many of us well know, it is within this tome of subversive writers that we have a few passages that support the lower classes being in submission to the upper classes—and this is as it should be.  However, it is always spoken of in the context of the upper classes oppressing and harming the lower classes.  The New Testament has nothing good to say about us, brothers. 

            Let us take, for example, a brief letter to various churches, written by the brother or cousin of Jesus, James, or perhaps by his students.  James was an important figure in the early church and his word was considered law by many groups of this fledgling— but revolutionary— religious movement.  He had much to say about us, my brothers—and none of it was good.  Listen to this: “The poor brother should be glad for his high position, and the wealthy should be glad for his lowly position, for even as a flower in bloom will soon fade and become ugly, so will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuit of wealth.”54  Again, listen to this: “God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith… but it is the wealthy that drag you into court and oppress you.”55  (A few gasps in the midst of a shocked silence.)  But this is not all.  This so-called “just” James dares to make yet another, more horrible, even more prejudicial remark.  This is difficult for me to read, and it is extremely shocking, so please be prepared for it:  “Weep and howl, you rich, for your miseries are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments are destroyed.  Your gold and silver have rusted, and its rust is a witness against you in God’s judgment.  The laborers you have hired are crying out against you for you have withheld their wages and it will be heard by the Lord of the harvest.  You have lived… luxuriously on earth…”  I’m sorry, I’m trying… “and you have… fattened yourself for the day of slaughter.”56  (Stunned silence fills the hall.)

            I hope you are outraged as much as I am.  This is blatant hate speech.  It is more forthrightly prejudiced against us than almost anything I have ever heard or read, except perhaps that despicable song by Aerosmith.   And if it was only in the letter of James—which our Brother Martin Luther called a “right straw epistle”—then perhaps it could be bearable.  The book is small, it could be avoided.

 But who can avoid Jesus?  Yet Jesus says, “Woe to you who are rich for you have already received your comfort!  Woe to you who are well fed, for you shall go hungry!  Woe to you who are entertained now, for you shall weep!”57  It is Jesus who says, “No one can serve two masters, either he will love the one and hate the other.  No one can serve both God and wealth.”58  It is Jesus who says, “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven.”59  It is Jesus who says, “None of you can be my disciple unless you renounce all of your possessions.”60  It is Jesus who says, “You say ‘I am wealthy, I have need of nothing,’ but you do not see that you are poor and blind and wretched and miserable and naked.” 61

Clear lies, all of them!  Our God could not despise us, who has blessed us so?

Do you not see?  The real enemy of our cause in this so-called Holy Writ is not James, but Jesus himself.  It is Jesus that enacted the change that turned the Bible from a humble critic of the excess of the unrighteous rich to an attack on all of us!  These terrible, poor-loving, deceptive words, in blatant opposition to the equality of rich men everywhere were spoken by the founder of the Jesus movement himself!   I know that many of you scholars might be saying, “Well, Jesus may not have said that,” or, “there are certainly other interpretations.”  Of course there are.  Of course there are doubts.  But the clear reading of the text is impossible to deny when brought all together. 

Allow me to repeat a couple main points.  This book is dangerous.  It works directly against our cause, and influences the simple minded to be prejudiced against the wealthy.  Secondly, this book is in the majority of American homes!  There are people who read from this book daily!  Worst of all, there are many who actually believe this book to be God’s own Word and so might very well believe what it says. 

Now, we know, Brothers, that God supports us and our cause—let there be no question about that.  God has granted us our wealth and so wants us to rule the world and influence the people with it.  And so God has given us a commission—we must subvert the clear meaning of this book.  It is a book filled with despicable lies that will tear down the fabric of our very society.  And so we must continue the work accomplished so boldly by our forefather Thomas Jefferson.62  We must discourage the reading of this book as much as possible.  If the masses are to read anything, let them read the relatively safe Old Testament. 

Even better, we must follow in the ways of our Muslim brothers and claim through our media that both New and Old Testaments have been superseded by greater, better, teaching.  The best, most popular teaching are the new ethics based upon scientific principles.  This allows us to support an ethics that are based on positive, capitalistic principles.  In this way, the hate speech may be muted, and we will regain our former glory and honor that we deserve to have. 

I see my time is up.  Thank you for your apt attention, brothers.  (Wild applause breaks out.)