Happy Moltmann Monday from icy Dallas! As there’s been quite a bit of chatter about the poor lately in the news, from the debate over minimum wage rates, a post by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Held Evan’s counter-post, Pope Francis’ recent comments on money (and all the backlash he got from it, which would be way too many links for me to imbed), and our remembrance of the life of Nelson Mandela and his fight against poverty, I thought I’d post some thoughts of Moltmann’s on the matter from The Way of Jesus Christ:
Sociologically speaking, the Jesus movement in Galilee was a movement of the poor; the disciples are to go out barefoot, without any provisions, homeless and as beggars, and are to proclaim the gospel to the poor. They put their trust entirely in God, so they have no worries. They live entirely from their hope for God’s coming, so they take no account of either mammon or hunger. Their master himself lived as one of the poor, without the protection of a family, without a home country, without any income or provision for the future. They share with the people the little that they have, and as the poor they satisfy a great multitude…
What does the gospel bring the poor? …It brings them the assurance of their indestructible dignity in God’s sight…They no longer adopt the system of values of their exploiters, according to which it is only the rich who are real persons, whereas all those who are not rich are ‘failures’ who ‘haven’t made it’ in life’s struggle…The gospel about the kingdom of God which belongs to the poor…gives the poor courage..God is on their side and God’s future belongs to them. ‘The men of violence’ have shut them out of the pleasures of the present. But God has thrown open his future to them, and has made them the heirs of his coming kingdom…
Jesus’ promise does not put the poor on the way to becoming richer, which is a way that is always fraught with violence; it puts them on the way to community which, as the Feeding of the Five Thousand shows, is determined by ‘the culture of sharing.’
This was a really long section, so I tried to boil it down to the basics, which are these: 1) Jesus was poor, and his movement was among the poor. (I can’t believe this has to be pointed out, but we shouldn’t underestimate our ability to make Jesus into our economic lap dog because, God help us, we do it all the time.) The wealthy class did not appreciate what Jesus had to say, and with good reason. With money comes power, and with power comes violence. That does not mean money is inherently bad but that those of us who have money should be honest about the fact that we also hold power and privilege and we should be pretty aware of the easy ways this can cause violence to those who don’t have power or privilege. The gospel has an undeniable economic dimension. Wriggle our way out of that, and we’ve lost the gospel. Literally. It doesn’t hold up any longer. So when issues arise regarding the poor, it would behoove us to remember as Christians that we follow a poor Savior who also told us that inasmuch as we do to the least of these, we do to him. Jesus is in solidarity with the poor. He is on their side. End of story.
2) The gospel doesn’t de facto make everyone rich. In fact, to make all the poor “rich” would be to impose their oppressor’s values on them, which is, you have to admit, a pretty weird and perverted kind of justice. Moltmann says this so succinctly when he says that according to the values of the rich, only the rich are real persons. We should sit and think on that one for a while, because according to “rich” values, Jesus wasn’t a real person. While this doesn’t get us off the hook for seeking justice for the poor, it should make us aware of this tendency to want the poor to mimic the values of the rich. Instead, as people of faith, we should be asking ourselves how we can all together embody the values of the gospel.
3) The value of the gospel is not one of money but of community. That is the highest value. And in community, what exists is a culture of sharing. It’s not a handout, or loans with interest. It’s not drive-by-altruism. It’s a mutual sharing among people who realize this one universal fact: we are, all of us, loved and granted dignity by the One who created us, despite our many flaws, despite our bank accounts, despite the ways rich and poor alike miss the mark in being good stewards of what we have.