We should have known it would finally happen, and now it has. Jesus Christ has become the latest victim of Identity Theft! And it’s not about a hacked Social Security number: this time they have hijacked his character, his ideals.
You’ve heard the latest mantra: “If Jesus were alive today, he’d be a socialist.” There is good news and bad news for all those politicians, magazines, and bloggers making this claim. The good news: Jesus is still alive. The bad news: He’s never cared for compulsory redistribution.
Socialism is not about feeding hungry people. There are many ways that can be done, and it’s been done quite well by free people both in 1st Century Israel and 21st Century America. Socialism is about government ownership of wealth and control of the economy. This is imposed so that bureaucrats can dictate the abilities and needs of ordinary people.
Jesus advocates personal generosity and authentic community. He has never championed the control of government or compulsory giving.
In Luke 12:14 a man in the crowd asks Jesus to demand economic justice. “Master, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replies, “Who appointed me judge or arbiter between you?” The Lord then goes on to warn about greed and covetousness. “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Mark 14:4 finds a worshiper anointing Christ’s head and hair with expensive, fragrant oil worth a year’s wages. It is Judas, not Christ, who calls the woman out for being wasteful for not selling this costly asset and using the proceeds to feed the poor. Christ defends the woman’s sacrifice: there will always be poor people but sacrificial worship is beautiful and priceless. That’s hardly a sound bite for social justice, is it?
The Lord taught secretive generosity to help the poor. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” That’s a far cry from a wasteful government bureaucracy publicly mandating how much you deserve and how much your neighbor requires.
Jesus didn’t practice socialism and neither did the First Century Christians. In the wake of the massive tide of new believers who came pouring in after Pentecost, the leaders of the church found themselves overwhelmed by widows and others who had been disinherited by Jewish families. They had chosen to follow Jesus, but had lost everything in doing so. So people throughout the congregation began to voluntarily sell lands and possessions in order to share them with those in need. But this was not socialism: no one ordered it. This was generosity. Annanias and Sapphira were not punished for failing to comply: they were punished by God for promising to share and lying about it.
The extreme situation of Acts 4 is never described in any other church in the New Testament. Rather, when Paul encourages the saints to give towards the needs of the poor in Jerusalem, he actually elaborates, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Jesus has always championed generous living. He counseled the rich young ruler to sell all that he owned and give it to the poor; not the government. He inspired Zacchaeus to give away half of all he had to the poor; not the tax office. He instructed all of us to give freely for it is more blessed to give than receive. One day we will all be accountable for what we have done with the wealth entrusted to us by God. Generosity is, after all, one way we worship God and love our neighbors.
But Christ also posed this question, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?” (Mark 8:36) One of the easiest ways to sell your soul is to trade it away to the government for a bag of empty promises, a pack of contraceptives, or a free college education.
Lift up the Cross!