It’s become all the rage in Christian circles to present the Messiah as a woke social justice warrior. To lean into this crowd-friendly lie, pastors routinely misquote Scripture and take words out of context to show Jesus as a card-carrying Marxist. It certainly appeals to our self-centered sense of greed, but it rejects the real life of Jesus.
One can only make the case that Jesus was opposed to wealth by completely and willfully ignoring both of the words of the Bible and the reality of the era in which He lived.
To make their case, the Woke Jesus crowd shoves a well-known story out of context by ignoring a simple word. The story you hear is that a rich young man approached Jesus and was told he had to give away everything to go to heaven. … Ok, you know the rest.
One word, often ignored, provides crucial context. That word is “ruler.” The Bible describes the young man as a “rich young ruler.” This is critical. This wasn’t the son of a businessman; no, this is someone whose family profited off the governing mistreatment of the people at the Temple – the place where Jesus would later overturn the tables of those men preying on the people with the full approval of the governing elite.
For a modern approximation, think of Hunter Biden. You know … a guy with no marketable skills or talent, yet whose family is insanely wealthy because daddy has been immorally amassing wealth through political largesse his entire adult life.
Like Hunter Biden, wealth and political status were intertwined for the rich young man in the New Testament story. This young man wasn’t a ruler because he was rich, he was rich because he was from a family of self-serving rulers. Self-serving? He was told to give away everything that served him and his lifestyle, and he apparently chose not to.
For those who push the “Jesus hates wealth” line, there is also the subtle problem of geographic context.
On this count, I highly recommend Jerry Bower’s excellent book, “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.” In it, Bower explains that Jesus’ condemnations of wealth come only in southern Israel – in the environs of the capital city, Jerusalem. There, all the personal wealth is concentrated in the political leaders. Like Washington, D.C., Jerusalem was a company town – and the business was fleecing the citizenry.
As Bower notes, Jesus only criticizes wealth when He is in and around Jerusalem – and not around the centers of trade and industry.
Consider the city of Zippori, in northern Israel. Archeological ruins dating to the 200 years before and after Jesus’ birth show a very wealthy city – rivaling Jerusalem and most anywhere else in the Roman empire. It is just a few miles from Nazareth, but Jesus never criticizes the wealth there.
Lastly, we know also that Jesus was surrounded and supported by some very wealthy people. The sisters Mary and Maratha were exceedingly wealthy, owning a home that could accommodate Jesus and the disciples. Toward the end of the Gospels, we find this same Mary owning perfume worth a year’s salary. This wealthy, influential woman was later allowed to be a witness to His resurrection.
Again and again, we find Jesus was surrounded by, and comfortable with, wealth – but it was wealth generated by people who worked hard and served others. His condemnations of wealth were universally directed at the ill-gotten gains of people abusing their positions of trust and power.
Like Jesus, we must absolutely condemn those men and women today who use the power of government to enrich themselves. But, also like Jesus, we should celebrate those who have done well by providing valuable goods and services to their peers.