Save Us From ‘Jesus’
In sixteen years of Catholic education, I missed something. Jesus.
“Jesus Saves” is more than a slogan. Jesus is the one responsible for economic justice, or injustice, depending on the side of the equation you sit on.
“Mike,” with more initials on his name tag than the word Mississippi, was lurking to catch me after my presentation on family homelessness in Florence, SC, on the birthday of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the modern father of economic justice (among other things), who said,
“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
Dr. King, “Strength to Love”, 1963
Mike, whose interest in money was spelled out by those initials, is a professional money man. A financial adviser. He came right to the point. “By economic justice, I hope you don’t mean taxing the rich.”
Alrighty. I took a breath and said that’s part of it.
Mike assured me that Jesus will take care of getting money from the very wealthy. That’s why they have so much money, to learn to do something with it to help others.
Not to diminish those I know, and those I don’t know, who generously channel a great deal of money to help people and causes. But I suspect, not being a person who hangs with big money people, that some have yet to receive the Jesus money memo.
Mike assured me that the tax system is fair to those of us peons (my word) in lower tax brackets. It’s fine for those who are able to find tax shelters to do so. As someone who got slammed last year, the first year of the Trumpian tax scam, that’s a tender topic with me. So I tried to tell Mike that, but he wasn’t buying my personal experience with tax injustice. He reiterated the fact that people with a lot of money knew what to do with it, thanks to inspiration provided by Jesus.
Here I am, on church property in the heart of South Carolina, being reassured by Mike that Jesus is inspiring people with a lot of money to give lots of money. And I’m trying to remind myself that it wouldn’t be proper to haul off and pop him one.
The people I know are dying for shelter — not tax shelters.
They’re dying for health care and food — lack thereof, for someone to watch their kids while they work for the paycheck that doesn’t cover rent, transportation, education, and other essentials.
A woman who used to work in health care also came over to talk to me about economic justice. She was pleased to say that when she worked with those who couldn’t afford their hospital bills she’d urge them to go to the business office and ask for a break.
I nodded knowingly, and then said that’s how it used to be (not arguing about how wrong that was even then). But now, debt collectors have free rein to pursue even debts that have been written off, thanks to unregulated financial shenanigans that get the very rich even richer (hedge funds) while persecuting the impoverished (debtors’ prison). An example:
The sickest patients are often the most indebted, and they’re not exempt from arrest. In Indiana, a cancer patient was hauled away from home in her pajamas in front of her three children; too weak to climb the stairs to the women’s area of the jail, she spent the night in a men’s mental health unit where an inmate smeared feces on the wall.
Oh, right, she replied, with the exasperated tone of someone who was just told Jesus wasn’t coming to save the poor.
I checked with a couple of clergy just to refresh my theology.
John Pavlovich, a preacher who more often than not resonates with my thinking, offered this:
“Because if you aren’t deeply burdened to live from a place of expansive, sacrificial, selfless love toward your neighbor, not moved to alleviate anguish or reduce suffering, not compelled to leave people better than you found them — honestly I’m not sure what the point of calling yourself a Christian is.”
And Shane Claiborne, whose appeal to the younger evangelical crowd is described in a recent WaPo article, related a story about homeless mothers being evicted from a Catholic church building:
“They said, ‘We mean no disrespect to the church officials, but we talked to the real owner of this building, you know, the Lord’ ” — he chuckled — “ ‘and God said we could stay.’ It was brilliant. It was so brilliant.”
In the words of Joan Chittister, OSB, an enlightened woman religious,
“Jesus moved with drunkards and sinners. He healed the outcast and the enemy. He gathered women as well as men to his side. He chastised leaders who overlooked the poor; he defied the doctrine of sexism that religions use to make male minsters superior. He stood up and in a clear voice declared wrong any policies, sacred or secular, that burdened the backs of the powerless and crushed the spirits of the poor.”
I have nothing against those who believe in Jesus. I just wish they’d pay attention to his teachings. I can assure them that nowhere did he offer the message that “the rich shall inherit the earth and I’ll let them acquire more money than God and give them the opportunity to give it all away to help the needy (a word I despise but it fits here).”
Memo to Mike and others like him: Jesus lived and died poor (at the hands of the rich and powerful). If no one got the memo then, they sure as hell won’t get one now.
Memo to Elizabeth, Bernie, and any progressive who thinks taxing the rich will be a way to level the economic playing field: Assuming you can get elected by people other than the Mike-types, you’ll have to pry their money from their Jesus-protected tax shelters.
They’ll fight like the devil to keep that from happening.