Jesus claims never
to have been well off
RACHEL Today we have our mobile unit installed alongside the old synagogue of Capernaum, and as in previous days we are fortunate to have as our guest Jesus Christ, and…
YOUTH Excuse me, could I interrupt?
RACHEL At Emisoras Latinas nobody interrupts, everybody participates! That’s our motto!
YOUTH Are you…, are you the reporter from Emisoras Latinas?
RACHEL The very same, and who are you?
YOUTH I’m a loyal listener of your program, and besides that…
YOUTH I belong to the Apostolic Church “Jesus Christ is Coming”.
RACHEL Really? Well, now you have the opportunity to speak with Jesus Christ himself, since he’s already come.
YOUTH The thing is, like you, I’m doing some reporting about him… But where is he?
JESUS Here I am, friend. Don’t you see me?
YOUTH You’re…. you’re Jesus Christ? The one who’s been talking on the radio these days?
JESUS My name is Jesus. That business about Christ they added on afterwards.
YOUTH The truth is, I was imagining you with a different appearance.
JESUS With a crown on my head? With light rays coming out of my hands? Something like that?
YOUTH Well, no …, yes… I’m not sure, but hallelujah, glory to God! I’m not a reporter, Master, but I want to ask you a question, something personal.
RACHEL Is it okay if we broadcast it?
YOUTH Sure, if you wish.
JESUS What do you want to ask, friend?
YOUTH The pastor of my church is always repeating and repeating and repeating that God blesses those who do good works. Is that really true?
JESUS First of all, tell me what being “blessed by God” means for you.
YOUTH Being blessed means being prosperous. It means being well-off, having success in your business. Or you might even win the lottery, so that you stop suffering for the rest of your life.
JESUS Well, then, God never blessed me, … because I didn’t even have a place to lay down my head.
RACHEL Young man, if our audience is understanding you well, what you want to know is whether material wealth is proof of spiritual blessing. The richer somebody is, the more blessed by God he is. Is that it?
YOUTH Exactly. What do you say about that, Jesus Christ?
JESUS That’s the same way they thought in my own time. That was the way Job thought, a very honest man. Once I heard the story of Job read in a synagogue. That man had children, flocks, wealth, everything – he was quite rich. And from one day to the next he lost everything. Job couldn’t understand why God was punishing him since he had always acted uprightly.
YOUTH That’s the same thing I’m asking. Look, I’m faithful to my family and my work; I don’t cause harm to anybody; I even started a business. But I’ve been a failure. Things have gone badly for me all around. Why doesn’t God bless me?
JESUS Tell, what’s your name?
YOUTH Yeah, they even gave me an ugly name. My life is a mess.
JESUS Don’t say that, friend. And don’t believe what they tell you. If wealth and success were proof of divine blessing, then my mother Mary, my father Joseph and I myself would all be cursed by God, because we never had two pennies to rub together!
JESUS So God’s blessing is not some kind of wealth that’s possessed. It is love which is given; it’s loving others, struggling to help others. Believe me, Mortimer, the person who gives is happier than the one who receives.
YOUTH And what about me?
JESUS God is blessing you already. Have no doubt that God is also inviting you to his banquet.
YOUTH Jesus Christ, I’m really happy I met you. How can I thank you? Would you like to come to my house, and you too, miss? I can only offer you a little bread and tea….
JESUS Bread and tea, that’s almost a banquet! Sure, we’ll go to your house, Mortimer! And afterwards we can answer more of your questions, Rachel.
RACHEL Well, yes, but… but first let me sign off from the program. From Capernaum and for Emisoras Latinas, reporting for you today, this is Rachel Perez,… and Mortimer.
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.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
The theology of prosperity
The theology of prosperity, which has become very fashionable among some evangelical churches, such as the neo-Pentecostals and the neo-Charismatics, teaches that economic prosperity and success in business are external evidence of God’s blessing. Such teaching has been common among the tele-evangelists who have proliferated in the U.S.A. since the 1960s, and it was transplanted to Latin America in the 1980s. In his book God’s Bankers (Ediciones Puma, Lima, 2002), the Baptist pastor Martín Ocaña points out that this theology is a spirited defense of the prosperity of U.S. society and even makes such prosperity a criterion for determining whether a society is truly Christian or not. By means of an extensive bibliography and abundant quotations from preachers of prosperity theology, the book explains the neo-Pentecostal hermeneutic and certain concepts that are very present in that theology, such as “revival”, “missions”, and “well-being”.
Reading the Bible out of context, the theologians of prosperity propose ideas such as these: the sin of Adam was causing humanity to lose its productivity; Joseph of Nazareth was a lumber entrepreneur; Jesus surrounded himself with rich people and had so much money at his disposal that he needed a treasurer; the disciples of Jesus were fishing entrepreneurs; it is never God’s will that a Christian be poor, etc. At the same time these groups have convinced their faithful of the truth of the slogan, “The more you give, the more you will receive”: they will be blessed in the measure that they give tithes to the pastors and offer alms to the churches.
There is profound concern among the historical Protestant churches because of the neo-Pentecostal avalanche, which always comes accompanied by the theology of prosperity. As a simple antidote to this superficial theology, the U.S. Baptist pastor Calvin George offers the following reflections in an internet essay: There are many things that money cannot buy. Money will buy a bed, but not sleep; books, but not wisdom; food, but not appetite; cosmetics, but not beauty; attention, but not love; a house, but not a home; a watch, but not time; medicine, but not health; luxury, but not culture; admiration, but not respect; an insurance policy, but not peace of mind; entertainment, but not happiness; a crucifix, but not a Savior.
The theology of prosperity has been promoted widely in Latin America by the neo-Pentecostal evangelical churches. It has been championed vigorously and with enormous financial resources by the Universal Church of God’s Kingdom (UCGK), an organization founded in Brazil in 1977 by Edir Macedo Bezerra. After filling that country with gigantic temples, the UCGK has spread to all the countries of Latin America and to many on other continents as well. An interesting practice of this organization is its purchase of old movie theaters and then transforming them into temples. In some countries the church uses other names such as: “Strong Prayer to the Holy Spirit”, “Christian Community of the Holy Spirit”, or “Universal Ark”. The UCGK also includes several associations aimed at specialized audiences. Among these are “Athletes of Christ”, which appeals to athletes, and the “Sara Nossa Terra Church” and the “Full Gospel Association”, which recruit their faithful among the political and economic elites. The UCGK sometimes also goes by the name of its radio and television programs, “Stop Suffering”.
The UCGK declares itself to be Christian, evangelical and Pentecostal, but it is disparaged by practically all the other evangelical and Pentecostal organizations. Some of the essential elements in its “credo” are tithing, fighting against demons, belief in miracles, and the use of “sacred” objects to enter into contact with the divine. In its temples and through its radio and television programs the church sells all times of “holy objects”, such as stones from the tomb of Jesus, the miraculous rose of Jericho, holy water from the River Jordan, salt blessed by the Holy Spirit, oil from Israel, etc. Extensive research done in several countries and simple examination of this group’s messages lead readily to the conclusion that the whole organization is a fabulous, fraudulent business which captures those who are unwary, needy and desperate, people whose economic and emotional crises make them prone to illusory expectations and irrational fanaticism.
The story of Job
Some 500 years before Jesus, an anonymous author wrote one of the most provocative books of the Bible, the Book of Job, which tells the story of a good man who suffered all kinds of calamities. The pages of this book record Job’s questioning of his misfortunes, which he considers absurd, unjust and undeserved. In the course of his crisis Job debates with several friends, who suggest to him pious considerations and urge him to resign himself. Job refuses to do so and confronts God himself, who he claims is ultimately responsible for the evils that have befallen him.
The character of Job, rebellious in the face of suffering and demanding justice of God, indicated a true revolution in the religious thinking of Israel. Before Job’s time it was believed that the rewards and the punishments that came from God were visited on the whole people, as a collectivity. In Job’s time, however, Judaism was no longer only a communal religion, but also a personal religion. And since there were no clear ideas about what would happen after death, people believed – and hoped – that every person would receive, while still alive on earth, a fitting reward or punishment, according to his deserts. For the good person all would go well (he would be happy and would prosper), but the bad person would sooner or later suffer failure and distress.
The Book of Job attempts to contradict such ideas in radical fashion. Its basic theme is summed up in some very unsettling questions: Why do the good suffer? What sense is there in the pain of innocent people? Why do the unjust succeed and prosper? And going further still: How can we explain the evil that exists in the world? Why is there so much evil in the world? In the course of the 38 chapters of the book, Job poses these same questions over and over again, in every possible way. As a result of the book of Job, the thinking of the people of Israel concerning suffering and individual responsibility underwent considerable change.
Jesus did not prosper
The theology of prosperity is called radically into question by the whole life of Jesus himself and by the “economic and political” failure of his project. The gospel story of Jesus’ life and death provides no evidence that God is in any way linked to success or to power. Rather, the God of Jesus appears linked to practicing love and to making justice a reality, even though things often do not turn out as we wish since there are such huge obstacles to realizing God’s project. All that traditional imagery, which portrays God as all-powerful and supremely triumphant, changes radically in the person of Jesus, a fragile human being who fails in his mission and is killed by his enemies. That old imagery, which emphasizes achievement and success and which identifies leadership with power and pomp, creeps back into Christianity in many of the teachings about the risen Christ, who becomes once again the king of the universe and the all-powerful judge seated upon a throne of glory.