An Irrevocable Mandate

“…give ye them to eat!

No one can deny that Jesus speaks a lot about the poor. In a few texts one may debate whether Jesus is speaking about a type of poverty that can’t be resolved with anything earthly for it is something related to the poverty that go beyond physical needs. But most texts there is nothing to be interpreted about, nothing hidden about the fact that Jesus speaks about those who are socially poor.

Today Christians who are  apologists of the “social Gospel”, or the Gospel of the poor have a tendency to materialize their concern for the poor, sadly, not in their direct involvement with the poor masses, but simply expecting, promoting and voting with the idea that, if a government that they support is “for the poor” then their consciences are clear from any guilt of being apathetic and “involvement challenged”.

Consider this:

  •  There is nothing in the Gospel of Jesus that indicates that Jesus expected or commanded governments to help the poor and the needy. Even when he spoke with influential and rich people, he told them to do something more personal for the poor instead of pleading with them that they could use their influence to change the system and make it more beneficial to the poor;
  • Nowhere in the Gospels or the entire Bible (if one wants to make that distinction) is taught that charity, personal, voluntary, deliberate and sacrificial acts of charity are the same as supporting a government that promotes social engineering, and promises the amelioration of the conditions of the poor by confiscatory tax laws. Redistribution of wealth and Charity are two different things, from two different sources, and mainly, with two different motivations. One is not the other, and the other is not the one…
  • Jesus also did not protest when taxed unfairly; He performed a miracle to pay taxes, said “render Caesar what is his and to God what is His” thus establishing a separation between the two realms from which charity could eventually come. He did not took the advantage to protest against the fact that the taxes weren’t being used enough to help the poor, rather, he said that that money belonged to Caesar, not the poor. A theologian told me that the expression “from the mouth of the fish” meant that Jesus actually told the disciples, some skillful fishermen, to go, fish, sell the fish and use the money to pay taxes. If that is so, or if that is a miracle of supernaturally finding a coin in the fish’s mouth, the fact is that in all the event there is not one mention of taxation as it relates to redistribution.

When faced with a hungry crowd, Jesus told them something that resounds today as a mandate to the entire group of Christians, individually and as the group called Church, “You feed them!” Note that Jesus did not mention anything about separating by any discriminatory group, but He simply commanded His disciples to feed the crowd. Need is the only consideration; not who they are, were, or did… Who knows? Perhaps some of those fed by Jesus that day were not one of those later in the crowd shouting in rage “Crucify him!” In Christianity, need, physical and economical need should be the sole reason for us to give and help the poor. As our Father gives us freely His Grace in Salvation, in spite of all our errors and imperfections, so should Christians give and be charitable to the poor.

Now, just as Jesus was, at least, not clear, or even mentioned redistribution of wealth, the care of the poor via taxation, He was very clear about how we can go about feeding the hungry and helping the poor. It is for us, as His disciples, as the real Church (yes there is an “unreal one”), who are called to the task of promoting genuine and Godly charity! The question is “are we up to the task?”.

Often when religious people come to me with modern ideas of redistribution of wealth promoted by the government I ask them what have they done themselves for one single poor person, not as a distant act of conscience relief, but a kind gesture of service to God? An eye to eye contact, a personal question about their needs, an “right now I am the closest thing you have to Jesus” kind of act? Sadly, not many! At the same time they want the government to do it for them! Well, the mandate still resounds: “Give ye them to eat.!”

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11 Replies to “An Irrevocable Mandate”

  1. There is at least one problem with this post. The Roman Empire ran programs that helped the poor before Jesus was born. Therefore, when Jesus says to give to the gov’t what belongs to them, part of what belongs to the gov’t are those funds used to help those in need.

    There is at least one other problem with this post. Many of the people I know who favor gov’t programs to help the poor also help the poor on their own. But even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t discredit wanting the gov’t to help the poor. For either poor Americans are citizens of our country and thus should have their concerns represented by our gov’t or if the gov’t is not to represent them, then the poor are not citizens of our country.

    There is at least one other problem with this post. That Jesus did not mention gov’t programs to help the poor implies nothing. We do know what happened to Israel when its people and gov’t did not help the poor. Allowing social injustice and practicing idolatry were Israel’s main sins that warranted God’s punishment.

    There is at least one other problem with this post. Believing that, in an interdependent society that one’s wealth was earned solely by the person owning the wealth is highly delusional. The same is true for any Israelite in the OT who believed that he had earned his wealth by his own hand. It was God who provided for them. And because God provided for them before they entered the land, they were to provide for strangers, both on a corporate level and on an individual level.

    It is neither that we refrain from giving personal help to the poor nor is it that the gov’t should refrain either; rather, helping the poor is the responsibility of both the individual and the gov’t.

  2. Ok, you said “There is nothing in the Gospel of Jesus that indicates that Jesus expected or commanded governments to help the poor “…
    Government 2000 years ago had absolutely no capability to help poor people, and had no desire to help them.
    Just like your lovable Republican Party of Lincoln. It disappeared in to history. It is a fantasy, that does not exist in the present 2014. The Roman government is also not in existence anymore.
    You also said ” He was very clear about how we can go about feeding the hungry and helping the poor. It is for us, as His disciples”.
    Same thing. The church now, and his disciples 2000 years ago are two different things. His disciples were told by Jesus to sell everything, and go spread the gospel. And let the people feed them! The church (generic, you name the religion or denomination), probable holds more property than most corporations. And most of their “help” to the poor comes through federal grants, not tithing. Handing out some blankets, or sandwiches to the homeless might help your conscience, but doesn’t solve the problem. Just makes you think good things about yourself.

  3. It is sort of interesting that when you mention the words: government and poor in the same words oh, the fundamentalist left simply loses their cool and the knee-jerk reaction takes hold and replaces good reasoning.

    1st problem: Whatever one can show from history, there was no mention in my post that the Romans did not help the poor. There were mentions that Jesus established a separation between giving to Caesar and to God. If Caesar helped the poor with the tax collected, fine. Thank God I wasn’t a Jew in those days… They may have another “history” to tell. Your “problem” does not belie the fact that Jesus still commanded and expected Christians to assume the charitable role.

    2nd problem People may help the poor via government, but the point, and it is my point, this does not qualify for the kind of charity Jesus expects from Christians. My function in writing is pastoral, not political… Even if one cannot get out of the political mindset.

    3rd Problem: But first, correct: Yes it does not imply anything. We don’t set doctrines by silence, but we can surmise from a consistent teacher when he makes the same point about one issue when he is occasionally silent about that issue.. So, I can see, understand what Jesus teaches when He is silent about a subject by how he deals with that subject in His overall teaching. Nowhere I mentioned anything about allowing social injustices and practicing idolatry… That sounds like a political “talking point” lurking for an opportunity to surface.

    4th Problem: “There is at least one other problem with this post. Believing that, in an interdependent society that one’s wealth was earned solely by the person owning the wealth is highly delusional.” At least Obama was more succinct: “You didn’t build that.” Again, pure political rant… No wonder “churchianity” has problems…

    Finally:
    “It is neither that we refrain from giving personal help to the poor nor is it that the gov’t should refrain either; rather, helping the poor is the responsibility of both the individual and the gov’t.”

    Absolutely correct! However only one, in my view, qualifies for Christ-like charity: the personal, eye to eye one. No one has to violate Mat 6, but Christians are expected to quit the cop-out offered by taxation and the motivation should not be “tax exemption, or deduction” either. But I am adding the former sentence and this one as a “bonus”: My point is “only Christian charity, with Christian motives, promoted within the realm of the Church is Christian charity. I ain’t buckling from that! Want to give to the government so it can redistribute? By all means, do it! Let’s hope it works! In the days of the N.T, when Jesus taught about the poor Jews, again, may have another story to tell about how government help really works! You can’t say either that neither did the Church’s help works because, really, I don’t think anyone has ever tried.
    I wish we could get off the political ranting for a second or two.

  4. Gary, you say:
    “Same thing. The church now, and his disciples 2000 years ago are two different things. His disciples were told by Jesus to sell everything, and go spread the gospel. And let the people feed them!”
    First, there is only one mention where Jesus directly told a person to sell what they had… He told them to tend to the poor, but to sell all they had, (sell, not to simply “leave” and follow him), was to a rich young ruler.
    Second, I don’t know how different the disciples were from us. Perhaps if you could elaborate…

    You also said:
    “he church (generic, you name the religion or denomination), probable holds more property than most corporations. And most of their “help” to the poor comes through federal grants, not tithing. Handing out some blankets, or sandwiches to the homeless might help your conscience, but doesn’t solve the problem. Just makes you think good things about yourself.”

    I agree with you with the difference that the things you mentioned can be done with a sincere heart. It may not solve the economical problems but I don’t know how many people have you done that to, but to many (and I understand that what I am about to say deserves a violin in the background and it is a Mother Theresian big clichê); That act of kindness can be the only chance they see anything resembling Jesus, so it does produce effects and I have seen many growing out of the condition they are in. I learned how to do what I do expecting God to resolve the issue overall… I mean, I write to Christians who believe in Christianity and more than that believe in God who will produce the expected results in the lives of humans, Not all will be helped but that’s not up to me, it is to God, But if I am that cynical about Christianity not making a difference for the good of other humans, I will join the agnostics and be happy in mocking everybody else who believes anything and being a scoffer, a mocker for the rest of my useless life.

    1. The disciples were to leave their family and possessions to preach. The people that they preached to, where suppose to feed them. As in, if the people didn’t accept them, the disciples were to shake the dust off their feet, and go elsewhere. I don’t want to waste my time looking up the scriptures, since this was so obvious.
      So you think giving food away in church food banks (which was probably a government give-away program anyway, with church volunteers providing labor), can replace food stamps? Or church donations can replace federal grants for low income housing support, which I know a huge amount of senior citizens use to pay a portion of their rent? Or you think a church tithing and donations are going to pay the medical expenses of the poor in an emergency room, instead of Medical (California version of poor people’s medical care)? You think churches are going to pay for “free clinics”? You think churches are going to provide free lunches for children in schools? Especially children here without citizenship? Oh, that’s right. You’d deport all of them. Except there are not enough church members in the entire United States to arrest and confiscate them all. I think you are living in a fantasy world.

  5. “You think churches are going to provide free lunches for children in schools? Especially children here without citizenship? Oh, that’s right. You’d deport all of them. Except there are not enough church members in the entire United States to arrest and confiscate them all. I think you are living in a fantasy world.”

    Gary, you said “you’d.” If I am correct that was directed to me as the “you” here. Let me tell you that you have no idea as to what my views are on this issue! So, refrain from “you’d’s” unless you define who you’re talking about.

    Also you seem not to have seen churches that function as a perfect and much more efficient parallel system (parallel to the government). I’ve seen and it is great.

    Susan Paxton:
    Was that what Jesus said? BTW, He also said, “the poor you shall always have with you.” There is always an opportunity.
    The government can really reach everyone… except that… check history… since the “war on poverty” and the “new deal” and socialism and communism, point a place in the globe where poverty has been eradicated? No one can say that the Church failed on that arena because I don’t think it has even been tried… It was for a while in Geneva in the days of Calvin, but unfortunately it didn’t work forever. BTW, I make the same mistake, but terms about “everyone” sometimes is akin to looking at a train wreck two miles away and not noticing the rattlesnake crawling up our legs. I am sure that “everyone” includes just one in your neighborhood, today on your way back from work… help that one. That one is your everyone! Already do it? Great! Congratulations!

    1. The “you” is the generic you of the internet. But since “you” know a perfect church system, you can please tell me what I t is, and how you can extrapolate its success to a few million people, with that churches limited income from donations and tithings. Or maybe you think all of a sudden, your church members are going to spend 40 hours a week each, and increase their tithing and donations enough, to cover the perfect program results for a large number of poor. Now that I think about it, most churches are predominately old people and young people. Neither of which can become full time protectors of the poor. I suppose you (generic you) will be doing all this in your spare time?

  6. Milton,
    Regarding point #4, if we succeed because of interdependency, then what the gov’t gives to the poor isn’t necessarily the redistribution of our personal wealth.

    So it looks like we have some agreement. We help our neighbor, that is the person in need who comes across our way and in this electronic, connected world, we live in a big neighborhood. And we go out of our way to help the poor. The gov’t should also help those in need. But we don’t help those in need vicariously through the gov’t; rather, we get involved.

    Here, we might consider the views of two other people. Martin Luther King’s view which was that we just don’t give charity, we ask about the system that puts so many people in need.

    Also, we might think about the journal entry linked to below on how to help the poor. It was written about the homeless. The link is long but the read is short and well worth it. The person who wrote it was 12 years old at the time.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=2ZvxAeE9ziUC&pg=PA15&lpg=PA15&dq=%22These+are+the+hollow+souls%22&source=bl&ots=ThGN9-Ad2a&sig=jzXfcvYry7tsdVC9IA-jHo7ssw8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=cQPiUd_NEqvh4AOyngE&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22These%20are%20the%20hollow%20souls%22&f=false

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