“…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”.
- 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.!”