It has been very interesting to see how Jesus has been adopted by the protestors outside St Paul’s Cathedral, who have clearly assumed that he is an anti-capitalist who would automatically endorse their views. There is much that we read in the gospels that clearly shows Jesus was profoundly opposed to the exploitation of the poor and that he cared deeply about justice, and it’s not only in the gospels that we see God’s attitude to poverty.
But does it follow from this that poverty is always a more godly state than wealth? I fear that a very profound and challenging message of Jesus has been turned into a rather shallow and simplistic message that it is better to be poor than rich and that God is inevitably more pleased with the poor than the wealthy. But is that really the case?
Jesus was obviously concerned with people’s physical condition, which is why we see him healing the sick and feeding hungry crowds, but actually his concern for people’s physical condition always seems to have been secondary, with his concern for their spiritual condition being rather more important. When he met a paralysed man who had been lowered through the roof he firstly addressed that man’s spiritual needs by forgiving his sins. He then went on to heal him, but his reason for doing so, he tells us, was to prove his authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12). Similarly when he fed the hungry crowds he did so not just to satisfy their hunger but in order to show them their real need, which was not bread but himself, the ‘bread’ that leads to eternal life (John 6).
The Bible is often misquoted as saying ‘money is the root of all evil’, but actually that’s not what it says at all. What it says is “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10). The comparison is not between rich and poor, but between those who love money and those who don’t. It’s not only the rich who might love money – the poor can long for it just as much, or perhaps even more so. The real issue in the Bible is not whether or not we have money, it’s whether or not we love the money that we may or may not have more than we love God.
It’s not just the capitalists that Jesus would point his finger at, but actually he calls everyone to evaluate our attitude towards money, and if we love it more than him, if we trust it or any of our other material things for our security or comfort instead of trusting him for those things, then he calls us, rich or poor, capitalist or socialist, to repent and to see him as our greatest treasure and our only hope.