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Examine Jesus’ teaching on Wealth and Poverty? The scholar Luke T. Johnson states, “Luke consistently talks about possessions but he does not speak about possessions consistently.” In some regards this statement is related to Jesus’ frequent teachings on poverty and wealth. Jesus’ teachings however can in some way be observed as inconsistent since he often talks of them to different extremes, it doesn’t say the same thing in every passage. You can however argue that Luke does this to make the teachings relevant to diverse audiences.
This is related to how we can break the main teachings of wealth and poverty into four different categories according to Chris Tuckett; the first he identified was that Jesus aimed some of his teachings at the poor to give them hope for the future of role reversal. The second he identified was that Jesus is often critical of the rich and wealthy warning them of the danger of riches. The third he identifies is Jesus encouraging charitable giving; this is aimed at the rich but with a more positive and encouraging message than his previous one.
The fourth he identified was Jesus teaching radical discipleship which was one of the more extreme teachings directed at the twelve disciples specifically asking them to give up everything, their homes, families and livelihoods so that they might finally be fully committed to Jesus. Jesus himself was born into a poor Jewish family and Luke continues to show Jesus as the poor and lowly throughout the gospel.
The scholar Morna Hooker stated that the opening chapters of the gospels introduce the themes which will be important throughout the entirety of Luke’s gospel. This is supported by the story Mary the Magnificat which states, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly: he has fulfilled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” Chris Tuckett identified the first of Jesus’ teachings on wealth throughout Luke’s Gospel to which he labelled as ‘Pro-Poor.’ This in turn outlines the benefits of having no material wealth, Jesus throughout his teachings conveys to the poor that they are blessed because they distinguish that they are spiritually poor and therefore can turn to God to develop a significant relationship. This is demonstrated through the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19), “The poor man died and was carried away by angels.” Here the parable symbolises how the poor will enter the Kingdom of God and roles will become reversed. This is again demonstrated in the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15) where the theme of role reversal is clear once more, in this parable the Jews are depicted as being too caught up with money making schemes and worldly concerns rather than a relationship with God. They are invited to join his kingdom but decline the invitation. By contrast the poor who don’t have material wealth to distract them respond to God’s invitation, “None of those I invited will taste my dinner.”
In the Sermon on the plain (Luke 6:20), Jesus teaches once more that current roles will be reversed the poor, the hungry, the unhappy and the unpopular, who have nothing in their lives, consequently turn to God in their need and therefore develop a relationship with him and so can expect a place in the Kingdom of God in the future, “Blessed are you the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” A teaching similar to Pro-Poor teachings is, what has been labelled as Radical discipleship, this highlights the fact that this particular lesson is rather extreme and not for the regular Christian. In the Call of the First Four Fisherman (Luke 5:111) the disciples, whether rich or poor were asked to give up everything in order to assist Jesus with his work, “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” However only in Luke’s Gospel does it say that they were required to give up everything which could mean Luke perhaps exaggerated the story in order for the story to have a more relevant meaning since in Mark 1:20 it is simply stated that they, “left their father Zebedee.” So they did not leave everything. In the Would-be Disciples (Luke 9-57) People with similar qualities to the 12 Disciples were called to donate their lives to Jesus. Jesus teaches them that being one of his disciples means an extreme or radical commitment.
Jesus states that a disciple must be prepared to put his work before family. Jesus says that those who follow him in this unique way must not have regrets of the life they have left behind; they must only look forward and not look back, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.” In the Parables of the Warring King and the Tower the lesson teaches that some people are called to give up everything to follow Jesus. Jesus however warns that before becoming a disciple a person must consider whether he has what it takes, whether one is prepared for the cost, just like a king going to war must sit down an consider if he has enough men to win or a person building tower must decide whether he has enough money, so a person wanting to be a disciple must first consider if he can make all the sacrifices necessary, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” In the Sending out of the 12 Disciples (Luke 9:1-6) and the 72 Disciples (Luke 10:4) Jesus sends the disciples out to preach, heal and cast away demons. He wants them to do this work in pairs and rely on no material comforts at all, this demonstrates their total commitment to their task and it means they have to rely on the people around them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, not even an extra tunic.” The anti-rich teaching is also displayed throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus often criticises the behaviour and ways of the Pharisees, while the Pharisees perform lots of outward religious duties, like paying 10% of everything to the temple, but they don’t treat people with the love or justice Jesus teaches.
Jesus accuses them of doing things for show and that they’re faith isn’t sincere and describes them of ‘Lovers of money’ and states that, “you cannot serve both God and mammon.” Meaning one cannot be both rich and religious. In Jesus Upsets the Tables in the Temple (Luke 19:45) Jesus forcibly and publically showed his complete disregard for wealth by upsetting the tables dominated by trade in the temple. Jesus believes that being rich and obsessed with money is not compatible with religion and so the religious leaders should have ensured the holiest place in all of Judaism was devoted to prayer, not trade and money making. In the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13) which can only be found in Luke, the rich fool was self absorbed and had little time for others or God. Luke uses a soliloquy to reveal how selfish the man is by the repeated use of ‘I will do this with my barn.’ With this it further reinforces how Jesus is critical of the rich and how they do not have time for God and so they lack awareness for the needs of others, “So it is with those who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich towards God.” In the Rich Young Man (Luke 18:18-30) Jesus warns that it is hard for rich people to get into the Kingdom of God because they find it harder to give up their wealth, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than or a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” In the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20) The rich who are happy, satisfied, popular and have everything are regarded as spiritually rich and so never develop a relationship with God and so will find themselves excluded from the Kingdom of God, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Once again showing the key teaching of how material wealth does not translate into, “treasure in heaven.” Finally, Jesus often instructs the rich to give charitably.
Throughout Luke’s gospel Jesus often states that through this the rich can enter the Kingdom of God, this is shown through the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25) where a teacher of the law asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” to which Jesus replies that he must love God and give charitably. The parable also tells the story of a Samaritan who gives away his riches to pay for the wounded’s care. Jesus teachings from this are that anyone who loves God and loves his neighbours in the way the Samaritan did will enter the Kingdom of God. In Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) Zacchaeus gives away half of his wealth and pays back 4 times what he stole, because of this Jesus tells him that he is saved, “Today salvation has come to this house.” In Spiritual Treasure (Luke 12:32-34) Jesus teaches that it is wise for a person to give to the less fortunate and so have less material wealth or worldly wealth. This means one would build up their spiritual wealth, a treasure in heaven. Jesus warns people not to put their trust into earthly wealth because it is transitory, whilst any good deeds that one does on earth will give one a reward in heaven which is in turn permanent, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” In the Sermon on the plain (Luke 6:27-31) Jesus encourages the crowd to be generous while also being generous emotionally, by loving those who won’t love them in return, and generous financially, by sharing some of their possessions with the poor, “Anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.”
In conclusion throughout the Gospel, Luke presents four main teachings on wealth to which Chris Tuckett labels as radical discipleship, pro-poor, anti-rich and charitable giving. Two of the teachings, anti rich and charitable giving, contrast each other in regards to their teachings. It is unclear whether Jesus wants the rich to give generously to enter the Kingdom of God or whether he wants the rich to give away everything. The answer is blurred, despite this however Luke offers a reasonable answer that offers advice for people of all circumstance, the rich are encouraged to consider others and their lifestyle while the poor are given the hope of role reversal. However above all else one teaching stands out from the rest, it is not earthly wealth that matters in the eyes of God; it is what a Christian does with that wealth. Why are these Teachings Important? Throughout Luke’s Gospel Jesus’ teachings vary from the reasonable to the radical, however the question of how they compare to Judaism remains. Although Jesus was a Jew himself his teachings in some parts highly contrast that of Judaism but in other parts they are similar. The key ideas of the poor being blessed in the eyes of Judaism were very different to what Jesus taught. Jesus firmly believed that treasure on earth and treasure in heaven were not in fact linked. Jesus taught that poverty was in fact a blessing from God, the poor who were spiritually poor recognised their need for God, so developed a relationship with him and would be rewarded with a place in the Kingdom of God.
In the beatitudes it states, “Blessed are you the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” The Jews however believed that poverty and sickness was a punishment from God for a person’s sins or the sins of their ancestors that in turn would mean they were the very last to enter the Kingdom of God. These teachings are important because they challenged the accepted teachings on Judaism. Both Judaism and Jesus encourage the rich to be charitable by giving their material wealth to the poor. Despite the Jewish view of the poor, there is a great emphasis on charity in Jewish Scriptures, Leviticus 23, “When you reap your harvest do not reap the very edges of the field or gather the gleanings… leave them for the poor and the alien.” While this contradicts the Jewish view of looking down on the poor, charitable giving is once again reinforced in Psalm 41, “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak.” Which suggests that while being poor is punishment from God, God still wants his people to look out for those in need. Jesus’ teachings are very similar to this; he is often promoting charitable giving. For example Zacchaeus gave up half of his wealth and paid back 4 times what he stole, Jesus in turn states, “Today salvation has come to this house.” These teachings are also important because they show that Jesus did also build on the foundations of Judaism and reminded Jews what the Jewish teaching was. Jesus’ teachings on radical discipleship are different to that of Judaism’s; Jesus expects his disciples and the most religious people, for example the Pharisees, to serve only God.
One can’t be both rich and religious, for example in the parables of the Warring King and the Tower Builder, Jesus warns that before becoming a disciple they should consider if they have what it takes to give up everything, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” However the Jewish Pharisees in particular were rich and religious so there is no problem in being rich and religious in the eyes of the Jewish people also the Pharisees remained faithful to God and obeyed the religious laws to the utmost degree, Psalm 112, “Blesses is the man who fears the Lord… wealth and riches are in his house.” This was important because it shows how Jesus can challenge the views of the accepted religion at the time showing Jesus’ power. The idea of how riches are a curse is taught by Jesus throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus often warns the rich of the danger of wealth and if one is not rich towards God they will not enter the Kingdom of God, as stated in the parable of the Rich Young Man, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than or a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Judaism has conflicting teachings on wealth, on the one hand the Jews agree with Jesus in regards of riches being a curse. They believed riches distracted people from God and that the material wealth in turn made them judgemental and proud, characteristics which damage their relationship with God. In Psalm 62 it states, “Though your riches increase, do not let your heart on them” However on the other hand Judaism saw that riches were also a blessing from God to people who were good an faithful, Psalm 112: “Blessed is the man who fears the lord… wealth and riches are in his home.” This teaching is also important because it once again shows the building of a foundation based of Jewish views. In conclusion these teachings are important because they give Christians the teachings and lessons they need to live a righteous and holy life, while also warning them of the consequences of not listening to Jesus’ teachings.
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