A Jesus economy?

President Obama’s “Buffet Rule,” a plan that would have LEON NEAL AFP/GETTY IMAGES A man dressed as Jesus sits amongst … Continued

President Obama’s “Buffet Rule,” a plan that would have



A man dressed as Jesus sits amongst other protestors holding placards on the steps of Saint Paul’s cathedral in central London on October 15, 2011.

raised taxes for the super-rich, failed to get enough votes to bring the proposal up for debate in the Senate, blocked by the GOP, even as on this tax day, millions of Americans are doing their last-minute duty of filling out the dreaded tax forms and mailing them in, along with payments many to most of us cannot afford.

And while polls show that about two-thirds of all Americans feel that the tax code in this country favors the rich and is unfair to the masses, legislators on both sides of the aisle have resorted to the Bible to justify their points of view.

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, the chairperson of the House Budget Committee who presented a budget that has earned harsh criticism from Democrats, insists that Jesus was for small government, a point of view that is dialectically opposed to the point of view that Jesus mandated and taught that the government, ought to take care of “the least of these.”

In a piece on National Public Radio, religious conservative David Barton used the parable in the book of Luke where Jesus tells the story of a man who worked only an hour being paid the same as men who had worked all day.

Found in the 20th chapter of Matthew, the story has inspired debate for years. Some see the end of the story, where the man who had worked only an hour receiving the same wage as the others, as a sign of God’s benevolence, God’s desire that all people be treated equally.

That thought, however, the thought or belief in economic equality, is hotly contested. The United States Constitution, while mentioning the ideal of equality, does not in fact promote equality amongst people on a number of levels. And capitalism is certainly not intended to promote economic equality. In a free market system, some people will do better than others. It is the way the system is intended to work.

Referring to the parable in Matthew, Barton asks, “Where were unions in all this?” The contract is between an employer and an employee.” Barton says the parable is or was proof that Jesus believed in the free market system. Others say that the parable, and others like it, are justification for the belief that Jesus opposed progressive taxation, unions, collective bargaining, a minimum wage and social welfare spending.

The problem is that the Bible has no study guide; there apparently is no one way, no one correct way, to interpret it, and so is virtually impossible to get a black-and-white answer. Jesus does ask believers to take care of the poor. He really does criticize governments that participate in economic oppression of the poor.

Obery Hendricks, in his book “The Politics of Jesus,” writes that poverty was widespread in Jesus’ time, and that farmers in Jesus’ day had to borrow funds from the wealthy to pay Roman taxes. The system was such that farmers had to borrow money every year to pay taxes until they could no longer borrow, and then they went into default.

The lenders, says Hendricks, then had the right to collect the debts; he references Matthew18: 25-25, where the rich could demand payment from the poor by making them sell their children or stay in economic bondage forever. Debt slavery was a huge issue.

Jesus was so attuned to the needs of the poor that he used the word “debts” in the Lord’s prayer, asking believers to pray that God forgive our debts (denoting a legal, economic issue) as we forgive our debtors.

Jesus was concerned about the poor and the spiral downward into poverty of so many people, but he did not say specifically that the government should take care of the poor. Jesus denounces the system, a government ( Mark 12:41 ff) where the poor are treated so poorly, but he does not say, for example, that such a government is bad.

Conservatives have picked up on that omission. In the NPR piece, the author writes that “Evangelicals cite the Book of Romans, one of the few places in the New Testament that refer to civil government…” and the author says that some conservatives say that taxation “violates the Eighth Commandment, which says, “thou shalt not steal.”

Conservatives say yes, Jesus says take care of the poor, but that the Bible doesn’t mandate that governments pick up the mantle. Ryan says that the poor should be helped through our civic organizations and churches and charities. When those institutions run out of money, what then? Conservatives are silent, perhaps because they believe that the working of capitalism kicks in at that point. Some people can and will be helped, and others will not. When the money runs out from civic, charitable and religious organizations, it just runs out.

People who interpret the Bible differently object to what is seen as a manipulation of the Scriptures and as a willingness of religious conservatives to ignore what they see as the precepts of Jesus. Peter Montgomery of People for the American Way says that conservatives are using biblical justification for their opposition to taxation, minimum wage, and other ways the government might get involved.

But there’s the problem. The Bible says so much that is open to interpretation. The late Jesse Helms admitted that Jesus said we should love our neighbor, but added, “we get to choose our neighbor.” Though both conservatives and liberals would agree that that the Bible does say a lot about people needing to take care of the poor and the hungry, the way conservatives see what the Bible in general and what Jesus in particular says about how this should be done is so far apart that intersection of the two “sides” seems highly unlikely.

The problem with Jesus and what he says in the Bible is that he criticizes systems of oppression and criticizes the rich; he hates how the poor are treated, but does not give a hard enough line of how government and the very rich must act and what they must do in order to be pleasing to God. Liberals can argue forever, and correctly so, that Jesus’ challenge to government was one of the main reasons he was killed, but those looking for a way to support their point of view will tell those same stories with a different twist. They will argue, as Rep. Ryan has said, that Jesus was for small government.

If only it were so clear.

Susan K. Smith, an On Faith panelist, is a Yale Divinity School graduate and author of “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives,”a winner of the 2009 National Best Books Award.

Susan K. Smith
Written by

  • ThomasBaum

    You don’t have a clue about Jesus.

  • ThomasBaum

    “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”.

    Jesus said this on the cross.

    True then, true now.

    The world is going down the tubes while so many are blind and deaf to the simplicity of Jesus’s message, whether this blindness and deafness is intentional or not, I suppose only God knows.


    The Good News is that God’s Plan is, ultimately, for ALL to be with God in God’s Kingdom, the new heavens and the new earth.

  • JDale_123

    What sort of morons think that an old book of fairy tales is a guide to the running of a country in the 21st century?

    I despair for America.

  • ccnl1

    Luke 23: 34 – more embellishment by Luke. Jesus was crucified by the Romans for making a disturbance in the Temple. That is the only historic reality of this crucifixion. All the trappings of the trial, thorns, dice throwing etc.were all added by M, M, L, and J some years later to make some OT fortune telling seem true.

  • ccnl1

    Early Christian economics 101:

    The Baptizer drew crowds and charged for the “dunking”. The historical Jesus saw a good thing and continued dunking and preaching the good word but added “healing” as an added charge to include free room and board. Sure was better than being a poor peasant but he got a bit too zealous and they nailed him to a tree.

    Paul picked up the money scent on the road to Damascus. He added some letters for a fee and “Gentilized” the good word to the “big
    buck” world. i.e. Paul was the first media evangelist!!!

    Along comes Constantine. He saw the growing rich Christian community and recognized a new tax base so he set them “free”.

    The Holy Roman “Empirers”/Popes/Kings/Queens/evangelicals et al continued the money grab selling access to JC and heaven resulting in some of today’s
    richest organizations on the globe i.e. the Christian churches (including the Mormon Church) and related aristocracies.

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists).

    “Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God’s hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus’ failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing.”

    In conclusion, money is a major foundation of Christianity to include Mormonism. Ditto for Islam.

    The martyred apostles ran afoul of Roman political and religious authorities because they preached, healed, and baptized for the conversion (and profit) to a non-Roman way of life. This support of an anti-Roman cult resulted in the typical murder/crucifixion of the cult leaders. The apostles’ conversions also caused a dra

  • ccnl1

    From Professor Crossan and Watts’ book, Who is Jesus.

    “My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety. I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset.

    And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those “last week” details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered.

  • lastofall

    Jesus already gave His answer to money: “Whose image and superscription is on the money”? They answered: “Caesars” He then said: “Render [restore] therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesars”.
    Caesar is representative of “Government”.

  • tony55398

    An economy where the rich and the poor and their children have equal opportunity for health, food, housing and education.

  • ccnl1

    And your “facts” are from a book written by five non-witnesses, four of which have little history. See Father/Professor Raymond Brown’s 896 page book, An Introduction to the New Testament. Said book has the approval of the RCC.

  • RevMark2U

    This is mostly nonsense and silliness. Unless one treats the gospel accounts as modern, eyewitness reports (I don’t), we don’t know what precisely Jesus said or did. The gospel stories (Jon Dominic Crossan now refers to them as extended parables using Jesus as a central character, based on the structures of the far shorter parables that Jesus apparently told) were written decades after Jesus’s death. They were written to some extent – but only to some extent – to address the unfairness and injustices of those later decades, not of the decades of Jesus’s life.

    It does seem safe to say that Jesus was expecting the Messianic Age to begin very soon, perhaps in his lifetime.

    Since all these injustices would be righted in the Messianic Age, it is unlikely that Jesus recommended any particular kind of social or political action; the Messiah would take care of righting the wrongs when he arrived. Jesus does seem to point to some surprising (to him) reversals of injustices in his time as one of the signs (for him) that the Messianic Age was already beginning. But were these actual reversals, or was this a matter of Jesus looking at life through this particular frame?

    Jesus’s expectation was disappointed. The Messianic Age did not begin and still has not (I would go further and say that it never will come). Insofar as Jesus did and said what he did and said, based on expecting the Messianic Age to begin soon, and given that it still has not, we do well to question to what extent we should base our doings and sayings on Jesus’s sayings and doings.

    The political, social, and economic structure of Jesus’s day was so radically different than our own day that one cannot extrapolate any but the vaguest of specific applications to our own time.

    The most one can do is extrapolate what seems to have been Jesus’s value system and ethic (a reasonable guess would be that it was a version of progressive Judaism at the time, likely very similar to Hillel’s version), and then ask, “What courses

  • ThomasBaum

    Ever thought that Jesus was crucified, at least from a worldly point of view, because the powers that be were afraid of the mob reaction?

    The powers that be’s job was to keep the peace and to avert a riot, so to speak, Pilate gave in to the religious authorities’ incitement of the crowd.

  • ThomasBaum

    Jesus was not an economics teacher, Jesus was/is the Saviour, the Saviour of the world, even tho virtually no one believes this.

    “My Kingdom is not of this world”, the Messianic Age has begun and it will come to Fruition in the new heavens and the new earth.


    Europe had a “Jesus economy” during the Dark Ages. Kings (all appointed by god!), their “noble” vassals and the Roman Catholic Church controlled all the wealth. Everyone else was a serf.

    That’s obviously the kind of “Jesus economy” American christians want. That’s what the 1% wants and christians worship wealth more than they worship Jesus.


    No, Jesus was just some guy who’s dead now.

    And as for the “Messianic Age”, it is never going to happen. That’s why christians pray for the end of the world and works as hard as they can to immamentize the eschaton. The destruction of the planet and the deaths of all human inhabitants will go a long way to cover up their religion’s and their own failure.


    “IMMANENTIZE the eschaton” sp.

  • ccnl1

    Paul of Taurus was first of the “necessary accessories”. He recognized early on the great wealth of Roman and Greek Gentiles so he wrote his epistles raising Jesus and his embellished life from the dead and the Gentiles “ate it up”. His promise of the imminent second coming was shear brilliance in gathering much silver and gold (the prime necessary accessory). The Romans got jealous ending the life of the first necessay accessory.

    Pilate, although not the founder of Christianity, was another “necessary accessory i.e. he could have easily sent Jesus to the salt mines.

    Constantine and his swords finished the “necessary accessory” scenario.

    Adding this to god not knowing the future, eliminates any god involvement in the foundation of Christianity.

    Christianity and the other contemporary religions are the result of human evolution away from the “dark side”.

  • ccnl1

    And the rush to the door continues:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the “bowers”, kneelers” and “pew peasants” are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of “worthless worship” aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    (As noted in the news recently, the third largest “religious” group in the USA is now ex-Catholics.)

  • DigitalQuaker

    Soddi, that is your opinion.
    I, and billions of others, believe differently. It would be helpful to respect others beliefs if you wish yours to be respected as well.

  • DigitalQuaker

    I believe the writer missed the point.
    The issue is not about forms of government, it is about people. Without people, government is an empty room. The message of Jesus is for, and about, people. The question is how people care for people, not governments. In the end, the creator is not interested on how a person voted, or how many taxes they paid, but how did you live your life?


    Jesus, of course, was as dead then as he is now.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “Jesus, of course, was as dead then as he is now.”

    You got something right, He was past death.



    Repeating your fairy tales over and over again does not make them true.

  • merchco

    I think Jesus said whatever you do to the least you do also to me i took from this that jesus is in all of us and when we ignore the beggar we ignore him.

    The parable of the workers earning the same wage for one hour and eight hours was i thought explaining a lot of things about how God operates and how God operates those who will be first will be last and the last shall be first his mercy is for the all it also shows the jealousy in humans when Jesus agreed1 dinar with the early workers they were happy again when he seen the late workers he paid them the same amount and paid them first, but in a way they had been idle all day and had put 7 boring hours in but took work when offered so they were willing to work so maybe God being God could see they had earned their i dinar also how jealous the ones who put the eight hours in. Maybe also This parable is explaining that its never to late to turn back to God and do the right thing.


    No where anywhere does it say I need to “respect” you and whatever hoodoo mumbo jumbo silliness you believers get into your brains.

    All I have to do is TOLERATE you – which is a real stretch sometimes, because, by and large, you intolerant b*st*rds are intolerable.

    If I choose to speak out against your vicious religions, it is my right as an American.

    Tolerate that, christian.


    From Michael Weinstein’s 4/18/12 WaPo article:

    “For example, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, for more than two decades nuclear missile launch officers were exposed to training material including a presentation which included New Testament “end times” citations and quotations from St. Augustine. As CNN reported, images of mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were disgustingly juxtaposed alongside biblical citations such as “Revelation 19:11, Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior.”

    Christians NEED the end of the world or everything in their religion is false.


    Punctuation can be your friend.

  • Counterww

    And repeating your stated opinion does not make what you THINK true.

    You are not the arbitrer of truth, thank God.

  • Counterww

    Soddi if in a position of power would never tolerate religious beliefs, this you can tell. He is a radical hateful atheist that has a lot of bitterness in his heart.

    Harmless on the Internet and probably a wimp in a face to face discussion.

  • Counterww

    Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
    8But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

  • Counterww

    CCNL is a radical nutcase that has been posting up here for years. He has rejected all Judeo Christian thought pretty much and sits in his little room and posts and reposts the same liberal theological nonsense over and over . Most just ignore his posts anymore as it is a one trick pony. There is not much substance there.

  • ccnl1

    Obviously, some have not read the referenced documents.

  • ccnl1

    The above is from 2 Peter 3: 3-10, written somewhere between 100-160 CE. See earlychristianwritings.com/ for a good review. See also Father/Professor Raymond Brown’s book, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 761-772. The author as per Father Brown and others is unknown. The referenced passage appears to be a rewrite of Jude 16-17.

  • Counterww

    I have read the Crossan the liberal theologian and other liberal nonsense you have posted over time. Conjecture, doubt, no proof of anything of the sort. Assumptions made up front and delineation of what Jesus really said versus what he did….. the very reason outside writings were excluded is that they were heretical and outside what and who Jesus claimed to be.

    You are a doubter and someone that has fallen from the truth of the gospel, and if you lead others astray with your deceit and lies you will be held accountable more than you know.

  • ccnl1

    How Christian of you!!!

    What books have you read other than the bible?

    Some suggestions:

    o 1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.
    2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
    – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–

    30-60 CE Passion Narrative
    40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
    50-60 1 Thessalonians
    50-60 Philippians
    50-60 Galatians
    50-60 1 Corinthians
    50-60 2 Corinthians
    50-60 Romans
    50-60 Philemon
    50-80 Colossians
    50-90 Signs Gospel
    50-95 Book of Hebrews
    50-120 Didache
    50-140 Gospel of Thomas
    50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
    50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
    65-80 Gospel of Mark
    70-100 Epistle of James
    70-120 Egerton Gospel
    70-160 Gospel of Peter
    70-160 Secret Mark
    70-200 Fayyum Fragment
    70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
    73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
    80-100 2 Thessalonians
    80-100 Ephesians
    80-100 Gospel of Matthew
    80-110 1 Peter
    80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
    80-130 Gospel of Luke
    80-130 Acts of the Apostles
    80-140 1 Clement
    80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
    80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
    80-250 Christian Sibyllines
    90-95 Apocalypse of John
    90-120 Gospel of John
    90-120 1 John
    90-120 2 John
    90-120 3 John
    90-120 Epistle of Jude
    93 Flavius Josephus
    100-150 1 Timothy
    100-150 2 Timothy
    100-150 T-itus
    100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
    100-150 Secret Book of James
    100-150 Preaching of Peter
    100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
    100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
    100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
    100-160 2 Peter

    3. Historical Jesus Studies, faithfutures.org/HJstudies.html,
    – “an extensive and constantly expanding literature on historical research into the person and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth”
    4. Jesus Database, faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html–”The JESUS DATABASE is an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-cano

  • Counterww

    Another speculative assertion by the liar ccnl

    You don’t confront what it SAYS. As it accuses and speaks of people like you.

    You are a sorry person.

  • ccnl1

    Obviously, some of us have trouble accessing and reviewing important analyses of the NT. Once again:

    See earlychristianwritings.com/ for a good review of 2 Peter. See also Father/Professor Raymond Brown’s book, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 761-772. The author of 2 Peter as per Father Brown and others is unknown. The referenced passage appears to be a rewrite of Jude 16-17.

    It is certain, therefore, that II Pet does not originate with Peter, and this is today widely acknowledged.

    Jude 1: 16-17

    “These people are complainers, disgruntled ones who live by their desires; their mouths utter bombast as they fawn over people to gain advantage.m

    Exhortations. 17But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous