Those whom Jesus loved: God, government, rich and poor (plus Video from the ‘This Week’ debate)

Henry Ossawa Turner, "The Thankful Poor"

Whether you’re a believer, or just viewing it philosophically, who has the greater love of God: the rich, who many modern Christian churches say are blessed, as evidenced by their wealth and success, or the poor, who the Jesus of the Gospels defended?

It’s kind of ironic that many right wing Christians teach that the Bible somehow enjoins society from “confiscatory taxation” of the rich, as Richard Land (a southern Baptist who was a favorite of George W. Bush, a supporter of the Iraq war and signer of the Manhattan Declaration…) argued on “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” on Easter Sunday, and that somehow “social justice,” which is the essence of what the Jesus of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke — the only way we actually know Jesus — taught during his brief time on the scene.

Those Gospels are fairly explicit about what Jesus thought of the rich and the poor. He turned over the tables of the money changers, and in Matthew 19:16-26, had this to say to a person of great wealth:

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Then there is the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the greatest of Jesus’ sermons, and the most comprehensive statement of his core principles. In it, he spells out specifically who God blesses:

1 When he saw the crowds, 2 he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, 4 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5 Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
6 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 7 for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, 9 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.
10 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
11 12 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. …

There’s lots more, including a forceful intonation against divorce, which should make things interesting for many-times divorced evangelical poltiicians.

But it’s hard to read Jesus’ sermons and conclude that it is the rich whom he says God has blessed, or whom he believes should be protected by the Godly. Rather, it seems that the rich who give their wealth away — who do charity and pursue righteousness, rather than those who shield what they have from “confiscatory taxation,” are the ones in good shape with God.

You may be able to find things about self-reliance in the Bible, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything Jesus taught, which states that among the sins God loathes is the taxation of the rich.

And yet, we now have a strong current of conservative Christianity that believes in getting rid of the social safety net, and shielding the rich from taxation.

Related: ”This Week with Christiane Amanpour” featured a very good debate on the issues of God and government and politics this week. Video clips below.

Rev. Franklin Graham:

Pastor Tim Keller:

“This Week” roundtable on God and government: Rev. Al Sharpton, Eboo Patel, Dr. Richard Land, and Steve and Cokie Roberts:

Roundtable part 2: civil discourse:

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5 Responses to Those whom Jesus loved: God, government, rich and poor (plus Video from the ‘This Week’ debate)

  1. Michelle says:

    Love that Tim Keller. Although I’m agnostic, he really speaks to me about what religion should be. I think that if he didn’t mind someone that respected the word of Jesus without concerning herself whether he was this “god” that everyone should believe in, I could follow him into the social connection that every good church should be about. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are tenets our current “Christian” politicians forget. Jesus was a pure socialist. When these people call Obama a socialist, then I will assume that they are saying he is a follower of Christ.

  2. beulahmo says:


    First, thank you for posting Henry Tanner’s “The Thankful Poor.” I love Tanner’s work, and this particular piece has me thinking about something deeply important about spirituality and poverty (and camels and needles).

    Your column made me think about the times in my life when I’ve celebrated my faith with various groups of the faithful. I’ve always felt the most intense, sincere shared gratitude and joy when I’ve been in the company of others who *know,* from experience, what material poverty is. We know and share a brotherhood in poverty and faith that celebrates our spirits, which cannot be killed by material deprivation, and which are united through the holy spirit — so that even though our material existence may be filled with suffering and fear, our spirits will transcend those things; at the same time, through our willingness to serve each other and to share our meager possessions, we’re comforted by the constant reminder that we are not alone. And so we feel closer to God, because we see that — free from the constraints of mortal existence, and strengthened by our empathy and reliance on each other — we are one. I think that’s why it’s easier for us to understand, down to our core, Matthew’s foretelling of what Jesus will think of our earthly deeds: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Perhaps those of us who experience (or have experienced) poverty or otherwise worked closely with the poor have effortless access to our capacity for empathy, and we easily see ourselves in each other.

    As for these right-wing Christians, their attempts to twist the over-arching and over-lapping lessons Jesus taught about how we treat each other in this material, mortal reality — and in service to a political ideology that celebrates avarice — is a pitiable sight to behold. May they soon realize their grievous errors, and may God have mercy on them.

  3. Rupert says:

    Didn’t Glenn Beck suggest that if your church believes in “social justice” you should run the other way??
    Without yet having seen the videos, I’ll put my money on Tim Keller.
    Our lesson today: morality police suck, and the first time I’ve heard the KKK and Taliban worked into an Easter sermon. Yet the John Boehner Congress has embraced the “christian” right agenda, instead of the jobs agenda they promised.

  4. Jreid says:

    @Beulahmo –
    Beautifully said, and quite true. Although ironically, sometimes people who claim to have grown up poor turn out to be the cruelest once they’ve left “want” behind. Think Rick Scott, or the “welfare queens” campaign and early opposition to Medicare by Ronald Reagan. I think even Glenn Beck claims to have grown up without money.

    Meanwhile, some of the greatest benefactors of mankind have never known want. Here I’m thinking about Franklin Roosevelt, who though he had serious personal flaws (and ignored the scourge of racism during his time) put in place some of the greatest improvements to the basic lives of Americans ever completed. The Kennedys, and the Rockefellars also have been tremendous benefactors to society. And in the modern era of course there’s Bill and Melinda Gates.

    There are of course, the cynical rich, who build monuments to their inherited wealth while raping the country for more and more (here thinking of the Kochs) but I do think that some wealthy people are capable of great empathy and genuine philanthropy.

    But on the whole I agree with you. There’s something about having known what it is to search a bare cupboard, or have the lights turned off, that keeps genuine empathy always handy.

    @Michele and @Rupert
    Agreed. After Sunday, I’m a big Keller fan!

  5. Tony says:

    Funny how those who dont really understand the Bible always say how Jesus is about Love and Social Justice EXCEPT when it comes to everything else the Bible says about homosexuality, adultery, abortion, the Commandments……basically everything else about the Bible.

    If your going to accept some of the teachings in the Bible then accept them ALL.

    Read it for yourself and dont listen to those who twist certain parts.

    “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

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