In a previous post, I briefly commented on the banking industry’s practices of charging excessive interest rates. I suspect that very few of you were overly irritated by what I noted. However, I wish that you were infuriated.
The story of Robin Hood exposes the abusive practices of those in power and how their wealth is at the expense of the poor. Unfortunately, our society today does exactly the same thing. So much for the notion that we have evolved out of the Middle Ages and the barbarian ways of the past. So much for the belief that the days of the rich exploiting the poor in order to gain wealth is a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, VERY LITTLE HAS CHANGED.
John the Baptist speaks against the systems that create wealth and poverty
The Gospel of Luke includes an expanded look at the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke tells us that John was preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). John then elaborates on what “repentance” means when he demands, “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).
Some of those who were with John in the wilderness began to ask, “What shall we do?”
John replies, “‘The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.’ And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.’ Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages’” (Luke 3:11-14).
A careful reading of John’s words demonstrates that repentance includes care for the poor. John says that they are to share clothes and food with those who have none.
But John’s words—and the rest of the Gospel of Luke bears this theme out—go well beyond a simple care for the poor. John is speaking–and Jesus will intensify this theme–against the systems that create poverty. In particular, John speaks against the actions of the wealthy whereby they gained their wealth at the expense of the poor.
Thus, John exhorts the tax collector to not demand “more than what you were ordered to” (Luke 3:14). And to the soldiers, John demands, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14)
Both the tax collectors and the soldiers profited at the expense of others.
NB: to accuse someone falsely was a tool of extortion.
Neither Jesus nor John the Baptist would be happy with the Banking system
Most credit cards offer grand incentives for signing up. Rebates and points systems are designed to illicit the use of credit cards with the promise of free flights, hotels, or cash rebates. Sounds great. In fact, it sounds too good to be true.
Well, it is. Not for the wealthy, of course. For them, it is a great deal.
After all, I have to do is spend the money I was already going to spend and then I earn cash back or points towards travel. What could possibly be the problem?
I see 2 problems with Credit Card rebates
First, there is the obvious fact that the more money one has and the more money one spends the more rewards one earns. This means that the system advantages the wealthy. This, I suspect, does not bother most people.
The more I study Jesus, however, the more I am convinced that He would have been furious: “You devour widows houses” (Mark 12:40).
How, you might ask, is this an example of “devouring widow’s houses”? The answer to this is found in my second point.
Second, where do you suppose the banks get the resources to fund these rebates and free travel?
My wife and I have some of these cards. We do not pay an annual fee. And since we pay off—on auto-pay—the balance every month, we do not pay any late fees or interest. Free money!
But there is no such thing as Free money.
For years, I was under the assumption that the banks were profiting from the processing fees they charge the merchants (please, forgive my ignorance or naivete).
Upon closer examination we realize that the banks are profiting from the poor (shall we say, “They devour widow’s houses”?)
After all, the wealthy seldom pay any fees. And since they rarely carry a balance, they do not have to deal with the ridiculously excessive interest rates.
But the poor do.
Now—I know what you are thinking—you might say that it is their responsibility to pay off their balances on time and to avoid late fees. And, sure, there is some responsibility that must fall on them.
The fact is that the poor are more susceptible to late fees and the fate of excessive interest rates should anything go wrong. One illness, one medical expense, one layoff, one accident, one broken water pipe, one unplanned expense, and suddenly they are headed down a path that leads to destruction.
Nonetheless, the banks and their abusive practices have to bear a large measure of responsibility here. After all, they are known to intentionally increase people’s interest rates without advanced notice—and let’s just say they don’t do this to the rich, but only to those who have experienced misfortune.
Another example of the banks’ abusive practices is their failure to add charges to one’s account as they occur. Instead, they intentionally charge larger amounts to the account first. The result is that a person’s credit limit runs low faster. The problem is that once a person overdrafts, each of the smaller charges elicit an overdraft fee.
NB: I encourage you to watch documentary, “The Credit Card Game” (54min) or this report “Who actually pays for Credit Card rewards?” (18min) for more details on the exploitative tactics of the banks. And I hope they infuriate you!
Now, we might ask, why doesn’t Congress get involved to protect the consumer? Well, congressional legislation aimed at reigning in the credit card industry has proven to be near impossible. This is largely due to the fact that the banks are one of the most powerful lobbies on the Hill. One Senator has stated, “It is really hard to get a bill through the Senate when the industry is pouring money into Washington.”
Money and power rule the world. And it was this sort of system that John the Baptist denounced.
The kingdom of God has come to bring justice and redemption to the whole of creation. And this includes “good news to the poor.”
“But, Rob,” you might say, “This is not what Jesus was about. He was about saving souls.” Au contraire mon amis.
To be continued . . .
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