Jesus: Redistributionist-in-Chief

If Christian conservatives truly understood and accepted the teachings of Jesus, they would not be at the Tea Party barricades fighting to protect the money, power and privileges of the rich; they would be demanding what Jesus wanted, a radical redistribution of wealth and decent treatment of all, as the Rev. Howard Bess notes.

By the Rev. Howard Bess 

According to Luke’s gospel, the beginning of the ministry of Jesus as a reputational rabbi was marked by his public reading of a passage from the Isaiah scroll. His declaration was that a year special to God had arrived, a Jubilee Year that would redistribute wealth and end the economic persecution of the poor. 

A key part of the understanding of Jesus involves his understanding of this Year of Jubilee. According to Levitical Law, all land was owned by God. So, the people who controlled the land and farmed it were stewards/servants, but according to Leviticus, they never really owned the land. 

Land could be bought and sold but only for a limited time. Plus, the holders of land were under some strict rules. Every seventh year the land could not be farmed, meaning the land had a Sabbath year when it rested. 

At the end of the seventh seven-year cycle (i.e. 49 years), the Levitical Law required that all the people start over. Land was to be completely redistributed. This 50th year was called the Year of Jubilee. 

Other important things took place. All slaves were set free and all debts were canceled. The Levitical Law envisioned a new day for everyone.

Over the years the Israelites found ways of reinterpreting the law and avoided the keeping of the Year of Jubilee. People who had gained control of large land holdings were closely allied with the priests who ran the Jerusalem Temple. 

The prophet Isaiah (who lived in the Eighth Century BC) despised the rich and the powerful. A recurring theme in Isaiah is a call to celebrate the Year of Jubilee honestly. Many today would call him the ultimate socialist. As far as anyone can tell, the Year of Jubilee has never been celebrated.

Jesus lived at a time of a concentration of wealth when working farmers had completely lost control of their land, which was owned by very wealthy men who lived in large cities some miles away. Under the prevailing economic system, the farmers became poorer and poorer. 

Often, the farmers had to leave the farm and became day-laborers who worked at the mercy of absentee owners and their local enforcers. The greed of absentee land owners and the plight of poverty-stricken farmers form the backdrop of the entire ministry of Jesus.

When Jesus – at the beginning of his public ministry as a reputational rabbi – read the particular passage from Isaiah, his entire audience understood what he was saying. He was calling for the celebration of the Year of Jubilee. 

Jesus made his statement in a minor village to a group of people who had become powerless under the economic onslaught of the rich. Jesus was declaring that the new day had arrived. At last justice would be established. 

It was a brash statement partly because Jesus was not a trained rabbi. His position as rabbi would not have been accepted outside of a small area in northern Palestine.  According to the passage, he made his statement in the town (Nazareth) in which he grew up.

Jesus had spent his early manhood attending the local synagogue meetings as an active participant. A small village such as Nazareth had too few people to merit a trained rabbi, so the regular Sabbath meetings were led by lay people. 

At Sabbath meetings, the Scriptures (Old Testament) were read, discussed and argued. Jesus was the leader that emerged from the group. His reputation grew as he became their “reputational” rabbi. 

Jesus embraced the Isaiah writings, and the Isaiah perspective had become the eyes with which he read and understood the Law and will of God. 

(This understanding of Jesus’s radical message — challenging the power structure on behalf of the poor — puts into context his fateful decision to take his protests to Jerusalem where the scriptures describe him riding in on a humble donkey and confronting the money changers at the Temple. It also helps explain the determination of the religious and political elites of Jerusalem to have him crucified.)

Other Injustices

At this point readers are probably jumping to the conclusion that this column is about Labor Day. Not so. At least it is not specifically about Labor Day. It is about the arrival of new days as an intrinsic part of the Christian message. Jubilee is any and every day when justice triumphs.

And the message of justice is not restricted to issues of economic injustice or the excessive power of the rich. It also applies to social justice.

It has been nearly 42 years since the Stonewall riots started the revolution for gay acceptance in America. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in New York City that was regularly raided by the police. On June 28, 1969, the men at the Stonewall Inn had had enough. The resulting riots lasted several days and inspired the emergence of gay rights organizations across the country. 

Within seven years, I felt it necessary to face the issue of gay acceptance in our churches, writing my first essay about acceptance of gay people in our congregation. I shared my call for acceptance with my congregation. A new day had arrived. It was a day that demanded justice for a persecuted and down-trodden group of people. The old ways were unacceptable.

I believed it was and is the calling of our churches to declare the arrival of the new day. But I have been sorrowed that so many Christian churches have chosen darkness rather than light. I am chagrinned by my fellow Christian clergy who have kept silent about justice for our gay friends when they should have been witnessing to the new day of Jubilee.

However, I am also pleased with the large number of churches and clergy who have been declaring the arrival of the new day of acceptance for gay people in the family of God. We have come a long way in the past 42 years. 

Jesus had the courage to apply Torah (the will of God) to the vicious economic injustice that had developed in his own day. He challenged injustice and declared a new day. Challenging injustice and claiming a new day for everyone are the calling of every person who calls Jesus “Lord.”

The Rev. Howard Bess is an American Baptist minister, who lives in retirement in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is hdbss@mtaonline.net.

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11 comments on “Jesus: Redistributionist-in-Chief

  1. Gregory L Kruse on said:

    My church (ELCA and others in communion with us) recently voted to train openly gay and lesbian candidates for the ministry. We have lost many members as a result, as many churches split down the middle. Many of the opposition are now joining more “conservative” Lutheran churches and some are even constructing new buildings, leaving the old churches to those who are least able to maintain them. On the positive side, the national assembly met its quota for young people (30 and under) for the first time since its merger (ALC, ELC, LCA, etc)about 30 years ago. It was a courageous witness to Christian values to move in this direction, but I’m afraid the Jubilee is still a long way off.

  2. Tom O'Neill on said:

    I am not scholar enough to evaluate the analysis of the Day of Jubilee that Howard Bess elaborates here. But I love the sense of Judaism and Christianity out of which Bess operates. It immediately recommends itself to me as wholesome and authentic. Would that there were more Christians like him!

  3. Esther Colowitz on said:

    Well, that is because so-called Christians are hypocrites and completely ignorant. However, the US is experiencing what Rome experienced at the onset of their collapse and power was left to the church. Parenthetically, I have to add that said period in the history of humanity was called the Dark Ages. So, y’all take heed to that for history does repeat itself, time and again. Today’s US is a repetition of that where the powers that be have managed to come to the surface thru religion (because of the ease of brainwashing of masses of people and then, converting those ‘principles’ to politics). The Christian Taliban is in charge here and make no mistake about.

  4. We posted this article on The Christian Left on Facebook. Join us.
    http://www.facebook.com/TheChristianLeft

  5. Jesus Forgive Me – Concrete Blonde – Mexican Moon

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEv1Ymcb6H0

  6. Freedom of speech includes UNPOPULAR SPEECH, and I have JUST AS MUCH right to express my beliefs here as others do. So what if you receive complaints from the pro-homosexual commenters; you have a duty under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the free speech clauses of the applicable state constitutions as well (where you are and where I am), to post unpopular comments and the other side of the story. Sure, some free speech angers some people, but that’s unavoidable unless you violate the First Amendment and other laws by censoring (my) comments. And you have ABSOLUTELY NO legitimate First Amendment or other right(s) to censor those comments the following comments of mine. I am NOT threatening anyone, etc. Therefore, please do not exercise any completely illegal and/or unlawful censorship and violation of (my) free speech rights. Let me post my comments, and have them remain posted, without hindrance and contravention of my First Amendment and state constitutional rights to unhindered and/or unviolated freedom of speech.

    I am a bonafide member in good standing of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the ACLU, who understand and support unpopular speech being a free speech right; and, if you violate my First Amendment and other free speech rights, I will approach them to see about taking legal action(s) against you for all of same. (Legal disclaimer: It is also nothing but a First Amendment, etc., free speech right to warn of taking legal action as well.) Not to the following comment:

    The writer of this article was going along just fine about True Justice, the liberation of the poor, redistribution of wealth, and wealth equality… until he “connected” it with homosexuals. Where, in the the entire Word(s) of God, the Bible does Jesus the Christ EVER declare a “new day”, a “Jubilee”, and/or justice for homosexuals other than the destruction of entire cities (Sodom and Gomorrah—yes, Jesus the Christ existed throughout the Old Testament) of homosexuals and other sexual deviants (child molesters, etc.)? And where in Scripture is homosexuality, or the kind(s) of so-called “justice” for homosexuals that the writer of this article is talking about, EVER defended; when, in truth, it is condemned over and over and over again, including again and again throughout the New Testament as well? The answer to those questions, in addition to how I have already answered them within the question(s) themselves, is: NOWHERE AND NEVER!

    I am NOT a “right-winger” OR a Republican, but I have to defend Jesus the Christ and His TRUTH here, and on this topic, as it is His Will for me to do. This defense of homosexuality and sexual deviance as supposedly being “God’s Will”, is the ultimate in “perversity” and the “perversion” of God’s Word(s) and His Will; and it cannot be allowed to go by without it being rebuked as God commands us, also over and over and over again, to do so regarding the defense of evil. It is blaspheme to defend evil, and to twist around “justice” in order to defend that which God, the patriarchs and prophets, Jesus the Christ, and His apostles and disciples completely condemned, again and again and again, WITHOUT EXCEPTION(S). We are still in the very same New Covenant time that Jesus the Christ ushered in approximately 2,000 years ago, a “Jubilee time” if you will. But there is no “Jubilee time” for homosexuals, or ANY other perverts, anywhere in the Bible, the New Testament, and/or the New Covenant.

    “Jesus (the) Christ (aka God is) the same yesterday, and today, and forever”! [Hebrews 13:8.] Once condemned, homosexuality, ALL sexual perversion and ALL evil are condemned for all time. All those who “pervert” God’s Word(s) and Will to supposedly condone so-called “justice”, “deviant justice” so to speak, for perverters of God’s Will concerning sexuality, are not only themselves perverters of God’s Will, and blasphemers, they are condoners of evil, making themselves even more unrepentantly evil than the average unrepentantly, or non-truly-repentant, evil people. And, in the case of this so-called “minister of God” who wrote this article, are extremely evil false “prophets” and/or “teachers of God and His truth”, and even more extremely evil purveyors of such than the average “ministers of God”, because they lead people away, not towards, God’s True Will, and thus lead those people to evil, to the “condoning” and “excusing” of of evil, to the “excusing” and “condoning” of perversion, and AWAY from True Salvation.

    For all of this, unless they Truly, Fully and Completely repent OF ALL OF IT, are Truly, Fully and Completely transformed by and restored to God through Jesus the Christ (John 14:6), and Truly, Fully and Completely STOP ALL OF THIS “condoning” and “excusing” of evil and perversion, they will be COMPLETELY condemned for it and TOTALLY destroyed at the Day of Judgment set aside for ALL EVIL PEOPLE.

    As Dr. M. Scott Peck so rightly and correctly said in his excellent book, People of the Lie, “The evil (people) are the most insane (people) of all”; and, thus, they can so, even more, twist around the Real Truth, God’s Will and Way, pervert them, misrepresent them, misinterpret them to others, and use them to lead people to their complete destruction; while truly believing that they are supposedly “doing God’s Will and ‘helping’ people”. Therefore, they are the sickest of sickest, the most “perverted” of the “perverted”, and the most evil of the evil. Please do NOT listen to them, AT ALL, and do NOT let them lead you astray. They are to be nothing but shunned and banned, except to try to lead them (back?) onto the True Path, that of ONLY God’s True Will and Way through Jesus the Christ, just as homosexuals and other perverts are to be; and, if the latter is unsuccessful, they are not to be allowed to continue to lead people to their destruction without rebuke of their doing so, and/or they are to be nothing but spoken out against as it is God’s Will to do without fail.

    Wherefore, “(i)t is written, thus says the Lord [God the Father through Jesus the Christ, the Word(s) of God, and the Maker / Creator of all things except evil]…”: “…Get… behind Jesus (the Christ), Satan[ist(s)]…”! “…You are of your father the devil, and the LIES of your father (the devil) you… (perpetrate)…”! [Matthew 16:23 and John 8:44; etc.; emphasis and/or clarification(s) added by me.]

    • I wish we could edit these comments, as one can do on some if not many of the sites that allow comments. The word, “Not”, above is supposed to be, “How”; as in, Now to the following comment.

      • Geez, sorry, I guess I’m so tired that I’ve gotten really spaced out. I got it wrong again. The entire “correction” comment should be:

        I wish we could edit these comments, as one can do on some if not many of the sites that allow comments. The word, “Not”, above is supposed to be, “NoW”; as in, Now to the following comment.

        • Let me clarify some- thing(s) here; because, undoubtedly, the “depravity-lovers” and the “politically ‘correct’” who hate, condemn and want to destroy all people like myself who DON’T love depravity, will twist my words around, lie and falsely claim that I want to physically harm homosexuals, which is COMPLETELY removed from the truth. I have been a pacifist all of my 55 years of life; I have never owned a gun or any weapon(s) of any kind in my entire life, nor do I now; and I AM TOTALLY AGAINST VIOLENCE AGAINST ANYONE, INCLUDING HOMOSEXUALS AND/OR THEIR SUPPORTERS. I despise violence of all kinds, including all war(s)(/fare).

          As the Word(s) of God, the Bible, (also) makes very clear, it is GOD who will do the destroying; NOT His people, who are to remain completely non-violent and peaceful, AS I DO. And I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO DESIRE TO PHYSICALLY HARM ANYONE, INCLUDING HOMOSEXUALS AND/OR THOSE WHO DEFEND THEM.

          So, please, all of you anti-Christian people who hate all those who believe in Christianity and what the Bible, the Word(s) of God, says; and all of you anti-Christian people who love twisting around what believers in Christianity say, and seek to get them in trouble for it; do NOT twist my words around and lie claiming that I “want to” carry out violence against homosexuals and/or “pastors” who support them; as, again, I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO DESIRE TO CARRY OUT ANY VIOLENCE OF ANY KIND AGAINST ANYONE. On the contrary, I remain, and will always remain, totally anti-violence and ONLY for True Peace through the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.

  7. Lyle Courtsal on said:

    Wow, what a long diatribe from the alleged NLG guy or whoever. Gee, maybe if I had gotten any support from you oh long winded whatever, maybe my ultra out gay friend wouldn’t have gone to jail five months on false charges. Oh yeah, Y’all believe the crap about Ward Churchill too, and y’all wouldn’t have supported those lefties out there dressed in black too (well, a couple of you did some, but not enough).
    Seee, your role as a “Christian” is to love, love, love, and serve, serve, serve because you ain’t fit to judge as God would; you’re too hate-filled and judgemental because of what the CIA and the rightwing did to “Christianity” during the 80′s and before. Yes, Father Coughlin, though a good catholic, was also a good nazi leader too; back then though enough americans saw through the crap that they didn’t support him. Only the haters did. See no poverty issues are allowed to be discussed in US Churches; that’s why they distract you with everything BUT POVERTY ISSUES. No one has the stomach for facing the truth on how they failed God on that one. (Thats not true; Fox news falsified the poll results on the collective bargaining issue; just upped and flippedd them). Some days, it’s better to just throw up, roll over, and go back to bed than go to even “GOOD” churches, theres so many evil mass murdering rednecks in them. Lyle Courtsal
    PS There is no such thing as a Good Christian, don’t I know.

  8. Gee, Lyle, you sound like the bitter one. I am completely against the majority of so-called “Christianity”, which is nothing but a counterfeit of True Christian, and the latter is the ONLY form of Christianity that I am for whatsoever. But, see how easy it is to jump to conclusions. That people are supposedly “hateful” just because they stick by, and don’t contradict, what God’s Word(s) say(s) without exception(s).

    It’s much too easy to water down what the Word(s) of God say(s), and to end up excusing what it unflinchingly and unfailingly calls evil; and even calling oneself a minister of God while doing so, like the writer of this article. It gets one lauded for doing so; but, if one speaks out against evildoers like they are supposed to unfailingly and unflinchingly do, and only do, that gets them vilified even though they’re not hypocrites like this “pastor” who wrote this article.

    Yes there is such a thing as True Christians, but they’re so few and far between that the chances of you even hearing of one, let alone meeting them, are slim to none. But soon, when more and more people wake up to all the lies they’ve been living and believing in this world, including the counterfeit “Christian” ones, they will get the True, Full and Complete transformation by, and restoration to, God that is True Christianity.

    Right now we are living in a gross darkness that overtaken virtually everyone, and is getting worse and worse; particularly with the U.S. and the world being turned into a corporate-fascist dictatorship and slave state under globalism, our so-called “savior”. But God is far more powerful, and the Light of Truth WILL break out all over the place, even in the midst of the worsening of the darkness, and the Truth and Light will prevail with many people, thanks be to God alone! And then that Light and Truth will set those many people free!

    In the meantime, we have increasing condoners and apologists of and for evil, and gross evil like homosexuality; and people like yourself who cannot stand, and hate, the Truth. There truly is nothing new under the sun. But if your evil-loving ilk don’t Truly, Fully and Completely repent, and get that transformation of and restoration to God, you will lose your soul(s) for all eternity. I hope and pray that is not what (any of) you choose, for your sake(s).