The Fate of the Rich
17. And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
19. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
23. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24. And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
25. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
—Mark 10 [see also Matthew 19 and Luke 18]
Wow! It is difficult indeed for a rich person to get into the Kingdom! Perhaps we should help out the rich; make them pay heavily to charity by levying a steeply graduated income tax. Maybe we as Christians should mandate socialism or communism so that there are no rich people, so everyone has a chance to get into the Kingdom.
This is not a new idea. Christian communism predates Marx by 1800 years. The Book of Acts records St. Peter presiding over a communal economy [Acts 4:32] and some of St. Paul’s letters reveal that some of the churches he started practiced at least some degree of communism [2 Thessalonians 3:10]. The Pilgrims attempted to revive the idea, practicing communism during the first years of the Massachusetts colony – until starvation made them resort to private property.
Actually, starvation is a common problem with communism. Many a Marxist people’s republic suffered mass starvation when strict communism was enforced. Only after some black market farming was allowed were such countries able to survive. Communism has a serious freeloader problem. Given no material rewards for effort, the temptation to be a slacker is strong. And the temptation to hate slackers is likewise strong, which is why Marxist government uniformly resort to terrifying secret police agencies to keep things going.
St. Peter had the Holy Spirit performing this function. Those who cheated simply dropped dead [Acts 5]. St. Paul sent some rather telling admonitions revealing the problems faced by churches he formed with regard to community property [2 Thessalonians 3:10].
Communism has serious inefficiencies, and it can be a recipe for hate and tyranny. I absolutely abhor the idea of communism mandated by government. On the other hand, volunteer communism can be a wonderful thing. Living a communal lifestyle can be an extremely powerful spiritual exercise, producing intense relationships. It is a powerful test of benevolence and patience, without such, said powerful relationships can be those of hatred instead of love. Communism can get people outside of themselves.
It is critical that such intense communities be voluntary. To be forced into such a tight economic relationship with those you dislike or those who dislike you, is misery indeed. And a commune that cannot expel slackers must resort to psychological or physical brutality to remain viable. Finally, a commune that grows too large ceases to be a true community. We can only care about just so many people as individuals. Beyond that, abstractions – money or bureaucratic rules – are required. [see Chapter 5 of The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell]
For dealing with strangers, markets are preferable. For small groups, some communism is often appropriate. It is very good to experience an intense communal lifestyle at some point in one’s life, whether it be dorm life during college, joining a fraternity or sorority, living in a religious commune, etc. And it is good for the spirit to maintain at least a taste of such by being part of a church or social club which makes group decisions over a nontrivial kitty of shared resources.
Back to the rich: Are the rich truly doomed? Consider the discussion that follows the rich man incident:
25. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26. But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
Ah! With God all things are possible. This implies that it is possible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. And using this logic the Christian world has tolerated large gaps between rich and poor. But does this mean can we safely ignore this warning about wealth? The conversation continues:
27. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
28. And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
29. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
30. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
Hmmm, perhaps the rich may be saved, but they will have a lower rank in the Kingdom. The upper ranks will be reserved for those who have given up more. But before we settle on this conclusion, consider this parable from Luke 16:
19. There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21. And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23. And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
28. For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
Being rich and not helping the needy is a salvation issue, if this passage can be taken by itself. You are better off not being rich. But if you are rich, you had better give to the poor. This interpretation meshes well with the idea that it is more difficult, but not impossible, for the rich to get into the Kingdom. More is expected of the rich; while the rich do not suffer, they do have more work to do. Simply obeying the Ten Commandments is insufficient. (This idea can also be found in the Old Testament; see Deuteronomy 15.)
The implication for personal behavior is pretty clear. But what of government? Is this a mandate to take from the rich? Be careful before you jump to an answer. Jesus also condemned breaking any of the laws given to Moses. Does this provide a mandate to arrest witches or homosexuals? On the other hand, we do enforce some of the Old Testament laws. Theft and murder are illegal, and nearly all atheists agree that this should be so.
There are several possible answers, but some are subtle. But before reaching these answers, I will first look into a theonomical paradox, one which has inspired much anti-Semitism over the centuries. Why is there so much cursing of the rich in the New Testament, when the Old Testament often glorified the rich? What were the Pharisees doing that was so wrong?blog comments powered by Disqus
Copyright© 2007, Carl S. Milsted, Jr. All rights reserved.
Quotations from the NET Bible®, copyright© 1996-2006 Biblical Studies Press L.L.C. All rights reserved. Used by permission from http://bible.org. (The NET Bible is available in its entirety as a free download or online use at http://netbible.org)