The Rich and the Poor

This is an edited compilation of thoughts on economic justice from the book “If God Is Love”, by two Quaker ministers, Philip Gulley and James Mulholland (2004, HarperSanFrancisco).

Our world is divided into spheres of concern, with us in the center. We care for ourselves first, our family second, our neighbors next, our fellow citizens if possible, and foreigners with whatever scraps we have left. Charity is what we often do with our leftovers. We in the United States spend more money on pet food and supplies than we do on foreign aid.

Christianity has often refused to heed the clear call of Jesus to economic justice. Instead, we’ve made charity — the bandaging of wounds — our focus and ignored how the sharp edges of our economic system unequally tear and rip the poor.

If God loves all of us equally, then a world of vast inequalities grieves God. And if I claim to be godly, these injustices must grieve me.

As Christians, we are responsible to see that all persons have their basic needs met. If we see others in need and do not respond, we sin by our omission.

Most of us in the United States have much more than we need, and we sometimes flaunt our affluence. In a world where so many are struggling just to survive, we have advisers for our “wealth management”. We justify our inordinate portion of the economic pie as a sign of personal achievement. Economic injustice, rather than being a blight on society, becomes a measure of our success. Our worth is measured in dollars, and the poor are worth less.

It is not enough to want people around the world to have what we have, and pretend they can have it without any sacrifice from us. We must face the reality that it is not possible for everyone to live as extravagantly as we do. We ourselves must live less extravagantly.

The Didache, an early Christian document used to prepare novices for baptism, taught new Christians to share generously and to abandon an obsession with personal possessions. Jesus considered extravagant generosity a sign of faithfulness. He said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Writing to the church in Corinth when it resisted this challenge, St. Paul said, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

 In God’s eyes, people are always more important than possessions. The economic system of Jesus can be summarized in that one word: Give. The goal is not our impoverishment, but bringing about equity — the economic justice Jesus said we will be judged on in his Sermon on the Mount: “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:45-46)

~ compiled and edited by Jim Stoffels, 2 August 2007