Monday, January 25, 2016

Parables and "An Economy for the 1%"

"An Economy of the 1%"

I have finished writing both the Preface and the Conclusion to the book. I decided to cut a few paragraphs from the earlier draft I had written, and this blog post consists of a section of the Conclusion that I deleted from the draft. It originally came after I had written a couple paragraphs about the responses that Jesus expects from hearers of his parables, including the fact that understanding should lead to concrete actions. Here is the deleted section, but one that deserves to be posted on this blog:

One example will suffice to illustrate the continuing relevance of the parables of Jesus in ethical responses to issues in human society: According to an Oxfam International briefing paper published in 2016, “An Economy for the 1%,” we live in a world where 1% of the population has more wealth than the remaining 99% and where sixty-two people own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the world’s population (in 2015;

There is little doubt as to how Jesus, himself near the bottom of the first-century socio-economic ladder, would respond, and how he would expect those who claim to follow him and his teachings to respond. And many of the interpreters of the parables in this book have reacted similarly:

As Theophylact says about the parable of the Rich Fool, the “stomachs of the poor” are the storehouses in which our excess food should be stored: “They are in fact heavenly and divine storehouses, for he who feeds the pauper, feeds God (1997: 147).

Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. explains the same parable:
The answer is simple: feed the poor, clothe the naked, and heal the sick. Where can we store our goods? Again the answer is simple: we can store our surplus food free of charge in the shriveled stomachs of the millions of God’s children who go to bed hungry at night. We can use our vast resources of wealth to wipe poverty from the earth. 
Or, as Pope Gregory writes about the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we all have “many brothers of Lazarus” that we encounter every day: “Therefore do not lose the opportunity of doing works of mercy; do not store unused the good things you possess” (Gregory 1960: 158).

Or, as John Chrysostom notes about the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, since Jesus commands us to help our neighbors in need, the fact that our neighbors are in need is more than enough reason to come to their aid. Most importantly, Chrysostom argues, the parable demonstrates that when you help someone in need, you are, in reality, helping Jesus, who gave his own life to save you (Homily 79.2).

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan in a conversation with a lawyer. The lawyer “tested” Jesus by asking him what he had to do to inherit eternal life. The lawyer already knew the answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”

Jesus responds: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live” (10:25-28).

The lawyer then asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” (10:29), and Jesus replies with a parable that describes the extraordinary actions of a man, a hated Samaritan, who assists another human being in need, after two religious people ignore the helpless man.

The conversation between Jesus and the lawyer concludes:
[Jesus said,] “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).

That’s what Jesus means earlier when he says, “Do this, and you will live.”

Another image that reinforces the importance of helping others and the impermanence of material wealth is a painting by Hieronymus Bosch that I saw in the National Gallery in Washington, DC: Death and the Miser (ca. 1485-1490). It is a genre painting, but it also could be seen as an illustration of the Rich Fool parable in Luke:

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