Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: avarice

Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor

Jesus told the rich young ruler: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21). He didn’t really mean that, did He? There must be some hidden meaning . Many preachers and teachers have expounded their ideas of what that hidden meaning might be.

Let me begin by saying that it appears quite plain that Jesus literally meant that the rich young ruler needed to do exactly what He said. That was Jesus’ message to this particular person in that particular time and place. The gospels also record numerous instances where Jesus warned that the temple, Jerusalem and the whole Jewish kingdom would be destroyed. What good would earthly possessions in that region be then?

Those who united with the followers of Jesus after the day of Pentecost got the message: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45).  “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32).

They believed the Lord’s warnings about the destruction of Jerusalem and they were preparing for the time when they would need to flee. Josephus tells us that there were no Christians left in Jerusalem when the Roman siege began.

That was then, this is now. Does Jesus still want us to sell everything we have and give to the poor? It may be that there are individuals today to whom He is saying this, but I believe His plan for most of us is quite different. Nevertheless, the Bible makes it plain that the accumulation of wealth should not be our primary goal in life. “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). Do we want to be so attached to material possessions that this warning of Jesus applies to us?

“But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1Timothy 6:9-10)  “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (verse 17).

Perhaps the area that is most in need of change is our attitude towards those who are poor. Do we tend to blame them for their poverty? After all, often they appear capable of working, yet very often are idle. and when they do have money, they spend it quickly on the wrong things. Do we understand the hopelessness and futility that these people are feeling? They do not have a network of family and friends to help them find good jobs, help them deal with banks, government agencies or even find the education and health care that they need. When you have all that and take it for granted, it is difficult to understand those who are not even aware such a thing is possible.

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (James 2:1-6)

Squirrel cage economy

Twenty-five years ago I took a course taught by a man who had grown up in India and who had travelled the world. He talked of seeing how coffee, tea and sugar were grown by dirt poor peasant farmers. He described the steps in getting these products to the multinational companies that then processed them for world markets. Then he said: “Enjoy your coffee, but remember all the people who have worked so hard and earned so very little so that you could have it.”

This morning I had coffee with Carole Thomas, a lady from our area who owns a farm in Costa Rica and spends over half the year there. She grows black pepper and cacao and buys coffee from a neighbouring farmer and sells these products here in Canada, largely through the Saskatoon Farmers Market.

Through talking to Carole, and also from other sources, I am beginning to think that fair trade coffee may not be quite what it purports to be. For one thing, it costs a subsistence farmer an enormous amount of money to join the fair trade program and become certified. And then, they may not necessarily get any more for their coffee than if they sold it to the private merchants, though the fair trade association may offer a guaranteed price. One other concern that comes up is that the fair trade program doesn’t necessarily buy all of a framer’s production and pays the same, no matter what the quality of the coffee. Therefore a farmer may tend to sell his best coffee to a private merchant for a premium price and sell the poorer quality beans to the fair trade association for their guaranteed price.

That doesn’t really sound like it will ever help the poor farmers to rise above subsistence level farming. I was reminded once again of something Dorothy Sayers wrote during the Second World War:

“It may well seem to you – as it does to some of my acquaintances – that I have a sort of obsession about this business of the right attitude to work. But I do insist upon it, because it seems to me that what becomes of civilization after this war is going to depend enormously on our being able to effect this revolution in our ideas about work. Unless we do change our whole way of thought about work, I do not think we shall ever escape from the appalling squirrel cage of economic confusion in which we have been madly turning for the last three centuries or so, the cage in which we landed ourselves by acquiescing in a social system based upon Envy and Avarice.

“A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.”

Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

I think we’re further than ever from escaping from the squirrel cage, principally because envy and avarice are still the driving force of the world economy. What would it do to the world economy if individuals would renounce envy and avarice, buy products that are the fruit of honest labour, rather than flashy mass produced items made of dubious ingredients in far away lands by almost slave labour?

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