Monday, December 19, 2011

Jesus was an Occupier?!

This is pretty near the top of theological absurdity:
Civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson delivered a message of encouragement to Occupy London protesters this week....
"There is something powerful about this demonstration here at St Paul's. You represent Jesus standing outside the temple," said the church minister.
"Jesus was an Occupier, born under a death warrant, a Jew by religion, born in poverty under Roman occupation.”...
"The occupiers' cause is a just cause, a moral cause. They should not be dismissed but heard – listen to their message.
"Banks got bailed out, people got left out. Protesters are criminalised but not a single banker has gone to jail for their crimes, the corruption and greed which drove the global economy to the brink of collapse."

I will grant that Jesus' message to the tax collector--who are where both analogous to statists and big money swindlers today--was indeed repent.

Jesus message was far from "occupy ____". It wasn't "Send the lying, cheating and oppressors to jail." Jesus' message was not try to get back what was allotted people who were exploited. Jesus' goal and mission was not to use the power of the world to force the power brokers to yield. He didn't stage a sit-in, a protest or a riot. He eschewed an attempts to seize the kingdom by force. In fact, just the opposite. It was the radical power of the kingdom that demonstrates itself in submission and service.

The kingdom culminates in the cross. If there is any Christus Victor in the cross it is because Jesus did not occupy the powers of the world instead he overthrew them by yielding to them. He let himself get conquered by death.

This of course, lead to a radical sacrificial kingdom ethic for his followers.
Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. 
Let's compare Jesus' kingdom ethic from Matthew 5 with the methods of OWS:
  1. The redistributive justice of 'social justice' theories, for all that may be right or wrong about it, still operates on the plain of lex talionis. It assumes that the rich swindled money to get rich (not always the case in capitalism) and so we should repay them eye for an eye in the sense of redistributing money dollar for dollar--from one to another. It therefore still operates on a retributive justice: You made dollar A through exploitation therefore I will take dollar A from you. How is that not eye for eye? It is not a kingdom ethic.
  2. The occupiers are not teaching a radical cheek turning ethic but rather an active (even if non-violent in some cases) resistance. There is debate about how passive the 'turn the other cheek' is. It may force people to acknowledge equal dignity--and thus would have some sympathy to what occupiers claim to want.  More likely, it demonstrates a servant's heart that allows oneself to be mildly injured, ridiculed but utterly humiliated and despised for the sake of others. This thought is demonstrated in the further articulation of Jesus' message.
  3. Jesus taught that if people were going to exploit us from our money through lawsuits we should be willing to give more. If they sue you for your shirt (to exploit you); give them your shirt and coat. If OWS thinks Wall Street exploited them--a kingdom method would teach the radical irrelevance of money for kingdom ethics by handing over more of it to the exploiter. This is not an ethic on how to make a living but how to disarm the exploiter by showing his values are in fact unvaluable when faced with the kingdom. --I hardly see OWS saying 'they've exploited us, let them have more' --just the opposite they crave the value of a worldly systems of money and essential want to redistribute it equally. A kingdom ethic actually gives it away rather than crying out for equal redistribution.
  4. Jesus taught us to go the extra mile for the one exploiting us. Again, this is hardly what OWS is doing. If they really wanted to have a kingdom ethic maybe they should carry an executive's brief case, drive their car covering the expense of gas, or carry a cup of coffee to them at no charge. Overturn their greed by going above and beyond in the face of it. This is the kingdom ethic.
  5. Give to him who asks. Instead of sacrificially giving and lending to others, OWS is more worried about people who have borrowed from others. They a group A trying to tell group B (Government) to take from Group C (Wall Street/Rich) and Give to Group D. In the kingdom ethic--if Group D has a need group A give sacrificially.

For Jesus is was the meek, the low and the poor who will inherit the earth and be blessed by God. This was the kingdom blessing but it was on the meek, lowly, and poor as such. Their exaltation was not in the here and now. The blessing of their current state is indeed now but the out come of that blessing "they shall..." remained future.

I have yet to see any Occupier considering their status as blessed--assuming they are truly even poor. Their ethics seem to leave much to be desired by way of humility and meekness. Rather just the opposite, they are attempting to overturn the powers that be by seizing power through protest and sit in. 'Seize' might be a strong word but the basic motive is to use their methods to force another's hand. It is to  'force' people via worldly method to "listen to us." Hardly the radical servanthood of the kingdom, definitely not the ethics of the kingdom.

The point: Jesus and the ethics of the Kingdom are hardly aligned with OWS.


Anonymous said...

You don’t need to be religious to understand -and embrace- the idea that "Whatsoever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." But the 1%, in their blind greed and schemes, have forgotten and closed their eyes to this, and to what the word "society" should really mean. Because of Occupy Wall Street, we are finally talking less about CUTS and more about BLEEDING. Instead of demanding m-o-r-e budget cuts -to be borne by the middle class and poor- we are FINALLY focusing on the shameful bleeding that the poor and middle class has endured for all too long. Instead of talking about even m-o-r-e cuts in the taxes of millionaires....we are now talking about fairness and justice - about an economy and a political system that is increasingly run for the rich, and by the rich. Instead of talking about LESS government, we are talking about a government that WORKS FOR ALL OF US, not just a favored few. Thank you OWS, for reminding us that people -ordinary working people- really DO matter, and for helping open our eyes to what’s really going on in this country. Trinity Church should look deep into its collective soul, do the right thing, and help OWS. For I would bet my life, that if He were physically with us He was 2000 years ago, He himself would be the FIRST to climb those fences, and occupy Trinity’s Duarte Square. Of this I am certain. 

Tim Bertolet said...

Is it fair that the top 1% already pay 38% of the taxes in this country while they make only 20% of the total wealth?

Is it fair that the top 10% of wages earners shoulder 70% of the income tax burden while making only 46% of the income? By comparison, the bottom 50% of wage earners pay 2.7% of the taxes while making 13% of the income.

Forcing people by the sword to "have compassion" really isn't compassion. You assume rather than prove that the 1% is always rich because of their blind greed and schemes. Most of the time in capitalism people do not get rich by exploiting others instead that offer services, goods and investments that others can use. Often in capitalism the poor are not worse off because of the rich but rather the poor have their own standard of living increased over time because of economic liberty and activity.

I agree that government should work for all of us, but then part of the problem is that it was government that was allowed to bailout rich companies. I believe that a government that works best is a limited government that works within its ascribed boundaries. Rule of law is important but it must be impartial rule of law--not favoring the rich because they are rich or the poor because they are poor.

Certainly Jesus spoke of taking care of 'the least of these.' However he spoke of the saints of God being the people who showed compassion.

The Roman government was far more exploitive then any commercial system we have today. Jesus did call taxpayers to repent--and in their repentance they payed back what they had exploited. But Jesus never sought to use the power of this world's Caesars to force unrepentant people to have their wealth redistributed more "fairly."

What if Jesus came today and had both compassion for the poor and 'overturned the tables' of those at Trinity Church calling for them to repent? You can be certain all you want, but it is hard to back up from the text of Scripture that Jesus would have gotten involved in revolutionary movements or protests against this worlds power brokers.

Jesus showed that the way to defeat powers and principalities, and even the power brokers of this world was to take of one's cross and lay down your life for them. And that was the point of this post: that people today co-opt Jesus' message when their own is lacking in the radically kingdom centered sacrificial approach of Jesus himself.

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...