Jesus blasts the rich!
RACHEL The microphones of Emisoras Latinas are still here on the Mount of the Beatitudes. Before us we have a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee, and with us again, in an exclusive interview, is Jesus Christ. In an earlier segment, Jesus, you referred to the second part of the historic discourse you gave on this mountain. What did you speak of in that second part?
JESUS Well, first of all I blessed the poor people and congratulated them.
RACHEL And after that?
JESUS After that I cursed the rich people.
RACHEL You… cursed?
JESUS Yes, I cursed the rich people.
RACHEL Can you repeat your words for us?
JESUS I said it then, and I say it now Woe to you who are rich, who are well-fed, because you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh and make fun of the poor, because very soon you will weep and cry out when God empties your coffers, when God rips off your clothes and your jewelry and leaves you without bread and without money to buy anything, just as you did with your workers!
RACHEL Those are very hard words.
JESUS Much harder is the heart of stone of people who don’t want to share.
RACHEL Perhaps there are people listening to us now who are wealthy but also generous – people of humble spirit. Would you curse them also?
JESUS Once a rich young man with a good heart wanted to join our band. He wanted to put his hand on the plow of God’s Kingdom.
RACHEL And what did you tell him?
JESUS You have to choose either God or money. If you want to join us, first share out your wealth among the poor.
RACHEL If those were the conditions… I don’t think many rich people would have taken part in your movement.
JESUS A few understood, but the truth is that in those days, as in these, it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.
RACHEL Your message doesn’t sound politically correct. Don’t you feel it’s too radical?
JESUS Radical, yes. We took the axe to the root, because the root was rotten.
RACHEL They have always taught me that you were meek and humble of heart, but now I find you a little … how to say it? … a little intolerant.
JESUS God does not tolerate injustice, Rachel. In the end God will not ask us about rites or prayers, God won’t ask us about fasting and temples. We will be examined only regarding our justice, and God will be relentless with those who are unjust.
RACHEL You’re quite stirred up …
JESUS Didn’t you ask me to recall what I said on this mountain?
RACHEL Even so, could we close off our program by restating that your message is really a message of peace?
JESUS God’s message is fire upon the earth, and I can’t wait till it’s blazing! Listen, Rachel, if every morning of your life you don’t earnestly desire for there to be an end to wars, violence, lies, envy, power-mongering, then you’ll never understand my message.
RACHEL Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JESUS Look toward the horizon, Rachel. In these very days in which you’re living, I see signs in the heaven that announce a storm coming. Let those who have eyes to see observe the signs, and let those who have ears to hear listen to what’s going on.
RACHEL We are talking with Jesus Christ in his second coming to our modern world, which is ever more unequal – and therefore ever more violent. The Mount of the Beatitudes, Rachel Perez, Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
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Woe to you who are rich
In Jesus’ time the Pharisees considered sinners to be “cursed” or “condemned” by God (that is, not blessed by God, distant from God). And for them the “sinners” or “impure” included sick people, women, tax-collectors (publicans), prostitutes, and anyone who did not obey the Law and the rules and rites that the Pharisees determined to be pleasing to God. Jesus, however, did not follow such religious criteria, nor did he curse or condemn any of those “sinners”. Rather, he cursed the rich with his famous “Woe to you” sayings (Lucas 6,24-26).
Camels and needles
The rich young man of the gospel narrative (Luke 18,18-25) received from Jesus not a “counsel” for leading a “life of perfection”, as the story is sometimes interpreted. Rather, he received a radical proposal: the only way to enter the Kingdom of God is by sharing one’s wealth and adopting the perspective of the poor. On that occasion Jesus drove home his point with a hyperbolic comparison: he said that it was easier for the largest animal he knew of (a camel) to pass through one of the smallest objects “manufactured” in those days (a needle) than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom that he was preaching.
James also cursed them
James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church after the death of Jesus, followed his brother’s tradition and spoke also with great severity against the rich. In the letter of James, the “curse” that he hurls against them begins like this: You who are rich, weep and wail over the miserable fate descending upon you. Your riches have rotted; your fine clothes are moth-eaten. (James 5,1-6).
The Church Fathers and the rich
The “social” teaching of the first Church Fathers continued the radical tradition of the prophets of Israel and of Jesus. It can be summed up simply: those who possess wealth are only its administrators, and all wealth should be shared with the poor so that they cease to be poor.
There are abundant texts to that effect. For example, in his “Homily against Wealth” Saint Basil states: Anyone who deprives a man of his clothes is a thief. What other name is there for someone who does not clothe the nakedness of a poor person when he can do so? The bread you have stored away belongs to the hungry. You should give to the naked that coat you have hidden away in your closet, to the barefoot those shoes that are rotting in your house, and to the destitute the silver you have secreted away.
Saint Ambrose claimed that when rich people give to the poor, they are doing nothing more than making restitution: What you share with the poor is not your property. You are simply returning to the poor part of what belongs to them, because you are usurping for yourselves alone what was given to all, for the use of all. The land belongs to everybody, not just to the rich. (Homily on Naboth the poor man)
Saint Augustine states very clearly that what is given to the poor is a debt paid in the name of justice. God’s first intention was to grant everything to everybody.
And Saint John Chrysostom asserts: God never made some people rich and other people poor. God gave the same land for everybody. All the earth is the Lord’s, and the fruits of the earth should belong to everybody.
Becoming brothers, becoming human
Faithful to the message of Jesus, liberation theology denounces those who accumulate wealth by exploiting the sweat of their neighbors, and it announces the kingdom of equality and justice – and also struggles to bring it about.
The “option for the poor” is a key concept in liberation theology, but making such an option requires us to understand that it is not possible to love all people equally, that the accumulation of riches is unchristian and destructive of fraternal solidarity, and that the accumulation of suffering is also unchristian and destructive of humanity. Loving rich people and oppressors means challenging them and combating them – even cursing them – so that they will change and learn to be true brothers and sisters. On the other hand, loving poor and oppressed people means supporting them in their struggle to free themselves so their lives can be fully human.