Poverty Is Not a Sin: Disarming the Capitalistic Attempt to Co-opt Jesus

Poverty Is Not a Sin: Disarming the Capitalistic Attempt to Co-opt Jesus August 10, 2016

povertyby Lawrence Rodgers

Poverty is not a sin.  It is not a necessary evil.  Poverty is the product of greed.  However, capitalism is a religion to itself, Santa Claus is one of its patron saints, greed is its creed, and the cardinal sin is poverty.  However, it takes a seriously warped view of Jesus to mesh his ethic with capitalism. Among the most misused passages by capitalists are Luke 7:37-39; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; and John 12:1-8.  These verses describe a Mary of Bethany who wants to anoint Jesus with expensive ointment.  Judas scolds her, saying, “Why are you anointing Jesus with this expensive ointment?  We could have sold it and given the money to the poor?”  Jesus responds, “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

Jesus’ words have been taken so far out of context that it is sickening.  Jesus’ response to Judas’ shade has been used against the poor.  It is a misreading of this story to say that it is pointless to eradicate poverty or to help the poor.  I can only think of two reasons for this interpretation. The first is ignorance, just plain ignorance.  A parrot theology, which is just the repeating of what one has heard from someone else.  The second reason is opportunism: using Jesus’ words to justify one’s own greed and lack of compassion.

So, what is Jesus really saying?  He is saying, “Let Mary of Bethany anoint me with oil because I am about to die and be gone, but you can help the poor once I am gone.”  Jesus is not telling the disciples to ignore poverty and the poor.  Does this make any sense when we look at the entirety of Jesus’ ministry?  Jesus told the young rich ruler to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor so that he could follow him.  Zacchaeus was so convinced after Jesus preached to him he returned all he had extorted as a tax collector fourfold.  When Jesus preaches his eschatological vision in Matthew 25:31-46, he says the separation of the favored sheep and the disfavored goats is based upon acts of social compassion feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, offering healthcare to the sick, and visiting people in prison.

Jesus’ entire ministry is dedicated to helping the poor and disinherited.  To ignore this is to ignore Jesus.  The struggle between capital and labor continues in America and around the world.  Rich elites use racism, classism, sexism, and religion to control the working population.  Without mental conditioning, labor would be quite uncontrollable.  So, therefore from grade school onward, children are taught how to be good laborers.  Most children are trained to be consumers to get jobs to support their consumerism.  Once they obtain a job, the next goal is keeping the job, even if it sells out their dignity, violates their principles, the goal is maintaining a job at all cost because after all in capitalism the cardinal sin is poverty.  Therefore many support efforts to create and perpetuate poverty so that they themselves can avoid poverty in a sick cycle.  Some people live their entire lives without ever considering starting a business or exploring ways to navigate the capitalistic system, which can maintain one’s Christian integrity. This speaks to the power of being conditioned.

Unfortunately the religious right has been co-opted so badly by wealthy elites many have forgotten their call to mercy and they have forgotten Jesus was a homeless messiah who dedicated his life and ministry to mercy.  Ultimately, if you cannot follow Christ’s ethic, do not say you are or even worse try to morph Jesus into your own identity and agenda.  Be honest and say you are a disciple of Ronald Reagan or the Koch brothers but do not bring Jesus into it by misquoting him and ignoring his work.  Jesus loved the poor, Jesus said he came to preach to the poor, so do not use Luke 7:37-39; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; or John 12:1-8 to justify your own heartlessness.

Donate to the Work of R3

Like the work we do at Rhetoric Race and Religion? Please consider helping us continue to do this work. All donations are tax-deductible through Gifts of Life Ministries/G’Life Outreach, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, and our fiscal sponsor. Any donation helps. Just click here to support our work.


Browse Our Archives