I couldn’t find one instance where Jesus affirms income equality (IE). Perhaps the parable that comes closest to supporting IE is the parable about an owner who repeatedly goes to the market to hire workers for his vineyard and pays each the same amount, irrespective of how long they had worked. When those who had worked the longest complained, the owner answered:
· “’Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:13-16; ESV)
Jesus never suggested that His ideal is IE. Instead, there are a number of reasons that this teaching shouldn’t be taken as a repudiation of capitalism in favor of IE:
1. Jesus affirmed, as He did in all of His parables, the legitimacy of the employer/employee relationship.
2. Jesus also affirmed the legitimacy of the owner/employer having disproportionate wealth.
3. He affirmed the fact that ultimately there will be some who are first and some last. Not all will have the same thing.
4. Above all else, the owner gave out of generosity and not because he owed it to his employees or to the government.
In other parables, Jesus affirmed the legitimacy of capitalism even more directly. Another parable featured the owner of a vineyard who had leased it out to tenants. However, the tenants, perhaps advocates of IE refused to pay the landlord the profits due to him. However, Jesus sided with the landlord (Matthew 21:33-41; Mark 12:1-9; Luke 20:9-16).
Jesus used the father of the Prodigal Son as a positive role model. However, he had numerous “hired servants” (Luke 15:17) and evidently great wealth. Even in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, who ended up in a place of torment, there is no indication that his wealth had been the problem, but rather that he refused to share what he had (Luke 16:19-31).
In fact, it is important to note that Jesus never criticized but endorsed the Mosaic Law. Instead, He often criticized those who departed from it (Matthew 15:1-8; John 5:44-47). However, the Law had nothing to say against being rich and having employees, even servants. In fact, God had blessed many – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, and Solomon – with great wealth. While the Law did mention equality, it was never a matter of IE.
Jesus’ teachings were in tandem with the Mosaic. He too endorsed the principle that the hard worker should be able to reap his rewards.
Jesus told a parable about a wealthy landowner who was leaving in a long journey. He therefore entrusted with money so that they would use it to make a profit for him. Most did so and were commended by the landowner upon his return. However, one servant simply buried it and returned to his master the very amount that had been entrusted to him.
The master did not commend him but berated him:
· “‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’” (Matthew 25:26-29)
Not only did Jesus affirm the master/servant relationship, He also affirmed the fact that the master was using the servant to make a profit. Even “worse,” Jesus affirmed that the little that the “slothful servant” had should be taken from him and given to those who had much more – hardly an advocacy for IE.
Of course, Jesus wasn’t advocating unrestrained capitalism. The Mosaic Law contained numerous safeguards and provisions for the poor. However, the Law didn’t suppress individual initiative, the essential element of capitalism.
However, many, even “Christians,” are not aware of Jesus’ teachings and, therefore, tend to understand Him in a way that affirms their own modern, progressive values. One New York Times columnist cited a fringe figure, Brian McLaren, as proof that the Church is not following its Founder:
· “Our religions often stand for the very opposite of what their founders stood for…”
· “No wonder more and more of us who are Christians by birth, by choice, or both find ourselves shaking our heads and asking, ‘What happened to Christianity?’” McLaren writes. “We feel as if our founder has been kidnapped and held hostage by extremists. His captors parade him in front of cameras to say, under duress, things he obviously doesn’t believe. As their blank-faced puppet, he often comes across as anti-poor, anti-environment, anti-gay, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant and anti-science. That’s not the Jesus we met in the Gospels!”
McLaren claims that the Church has misunderstood Jesus. What is the basis of his charge? Certainly not Scripture! Rather, it seems that the Church is wrong because it fails to understand Jesus in a way consistent with McLaren’s progressivism.
And what of McLaren’s charge that the Church is not following Jesus’ teaching about feeding the poor? Jesus never petitioned the ruling classes to establish entitlement programs to feed the poor. However, He did appeal to individuals to give generously.
Admittedly, we fail in many regards. However, it is not because, as McLaren alleges, the Bible-believing church has willingly distorted His teachings.