Home arrow Articles arrow DAMAGING DISPARITIES IN WEALTH AND INCOME arrow THREE ATTITUDES TOWARD WEALTH
Home
Articles
Bible Studies
THREE ATTITUDES TOWARD WEALTH PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim Jordal   
Monday, 06 February 2012

THREE ATTITUDES TOWARD WEALTH

By Jim Jordal

 Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?" He said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Luke 10:30-37, WEB

Perhaps the best known and most often quoted parable of Jesus is that of the Good Samaritan, given by the Master in response to a lawyer’s somewhat facetious question about what he must do to inherit eternal life. In his answer Jesus confronts the Jewish exclusionary social system as well as the self-serving questioner with the truth that even loving neighbors as themselves is insufficient to satisfy God’s will if they fail to include the outcasts and victims of society within their circle of neighbors. The answer also presents three major attitudes toward the sharing of wealth with disadvantaged and victimized members of society. Each of these three attitudes is very evident in American society, making this parable extremely relevant to our social, political and economic situation today. However, only one of these attitudes represents the essence of what following Jesus is all about.

The first response is evidenced by the robbers’ behavior toward the unfortunate traveler. This attitude leading to their criminal act was, "I don’t have it and I want it so I’m going to forcibly take it from you." Societies fortunate enough to operate under the Rule of Law label such behavior as criminal and punish perpetrators rather severely. It’s unfortunate, however, that if you commit armed robbery with a weapon you may get 20 years in prison. But if you wear a suit, sit in an ornate office, and steal billions by manipulating laws you have created, they call you an upstanding citizen. Go figure.

The second attitude is that held by the priest and the Levite, representing the formal, pious religious community that caused Jesus so much trouble. This view is to pretend we don’t see suffering and to avoid direct contact with the often-filthy sufferers at all costs. It’s the attitude that "I’ve got it and I worked for it and you didn’t so I’m going to keep what I have. If you want it get out and earn it." One hears a lot of this attitude in our culture and even in our churches. If we help them at all it’s usually with money, but seldom with what they really need---respect and a place at the table of society.

If you remember, Jesus was extremely hard on the religious leaders of his day who preached goodness and piety, but refused to lift the burdens they and their religious system had created. They made long, flowery public prayers while at the same time foreclosing on widow’s houses. Unfortunately, that attitude remains with us today, even among "good" church members.

The third attitude, and the only one consistent with the teachings of both Jesus and the prophets, is the view that, "I’ve got it but you helped me get it so I’ll share it with you." As we’ve said before, there’s nothing inherently wrong in having wealth. Sin arises from unjust ways of achieving wealth or from oppressive ways of using it. There is no one who has become wealthy alone. Every wealthy person has had the benefit of using the labor of others, the infrastructure paid for by others, the protection provided by government, and so on. Everyone has benefited from the acts of others, so a certain fair level of sharing is indicated. But try to tell that to the tax-cutters of today.

NOTE: I’m indebted for the idea of this article to Dr. Harold E. Salem of the Christian Worship Hour in Aberdeen, South Dakota.