Isaiah wrote: “For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing;” Isaiah also promises that the captives and oppressed will be set free. Most of all, Isaiah proclaims a year of jubilee debt relief where all things will be restored to their rightful owners. This latter promise is often overlooked by capitalists, even capitalists who proclaim to be Christians. These promises do, however, comprise Jesus’ inaugural address and we need to ponder them seriously.
Justice is about right order and God has a thing about justice and right order. In the scriptures the Living God and Jesus constantly talk about restoring justice. It is the primal Gospel value.
We live in troubled times. Banks have failed. Nations are on the brink of bankruptcy. Justice is nowhere to be found.
In 1929, people coined the term “banksters” to describe financial icons who had gambled away the country’s wealth on questionable ventures. With the financial debacle in 2008, Michael Murphy, Irish author, entitled his book, The Banksters. He describes in detail how Irish bakers and their questionable gambles brought down the proud Celtic Tiger after Ireland had achieved prosperity. Before the economic boom, Ireland had been one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Dylan Ratigan will release his first book in January, Greedy Bastards. Ratigan is angry:
Dylan Ratigan is mad as hell. Infuriated by government corruption and corporate communism, incensed by banksters shaking down taxpayers, and despairing of an ailing health care system, an age-old dependency on foreign oil, and a failing education system, Ratigan sees an America that has allowed itself to be swindled and robbed. In Greedy Bastards, his first book, he rips the lid off our deeply crooked system—and offers a way out. (http://www.dylanratigan.com/greedybastards/).
Something is indeed amok. The Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to make a bold statement about the greed and inequities in our world. Numerous Occupy protesters have been arrested. How many banksters have been jailed? The 1% are running the show and amassing more and more in their silos. The income gap between the rich and the rest is ever growing worldwide. In America, traditionally the richest country in the world, one out of every six children lives in poverty. Billions worldwide live on less than $2 a day. This is not right order. This is not justice.
The bible addresses greed in no uncertain terms. Greed is the cause of much turmoil, oppression, exploitation, and even war in our world. It is easy to point the finger and scapegoat those who fall short on issues like abortion. Talking about greed gets much more up close and personal for many more people because more people are complicit in greed and its effects. A contemplative living focus forces us to examine closely the impact of our behavior. For example, when greed drives us to seek inexpensive goods, we have to ask ourselves whether the goods have come from sweat shops which oppress and exploit the least among us.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they were clean on the outside but were full of greed and self-indulgence on the inside (Mt 23:25, Lk 11:39). Luke warned the members of his early community: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (12:15) Paul warned the Ephesians not to let greed, among other sins, even be mentioned among themselves (5:3) and enjoined the Colossians to put to death various sins, including greed which is idolatry (3:5). Peter warned the members of his community to beware of false prophets who would exploit them in their greed (2 Pet 2:3). In fact, “They have hearts trained in greed” (2 Pet 2.14).
If we couple these warnings about greed with Jesus’ warnings about the dangers of riches, we see a strong bias against, greed, possessions, and consumerism in the New Testament. The bottom line is that it will not be easy for rich people to enter the new Kin(g)dom proclaimed by Jesus. In fact, it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter the kin(g)dom of God (Mt 19:23, Mk 10:25, Lk 18:25). The rich young man who could not part with his possessions went away sad (Mt 19:16-22, Lk 18:23). Jesus condemned the farmer who built more silos: “This is the way it works with people who accumulate riches for themselves, but are not rich in God (Lk 12:21). Jesus told the poignant story of Lazarus, poor and covered with sores, who sat begging at the gate of the rich man (Lk 16:19-22).
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, continued to proclaim Jesus’ message about riches. In 1 Timothy, Paul speaks about those who want to be rich and “are trapped in many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (6:9). He says that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils.” He goes on to say that the pursuit of riches has led some to wander “away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Tim 6:10). James gives no quarter to the rich. They will wither away in scorching heat like flowers in the field (James 1:10-11). James chides the rich for having “dishonored the poor” by oppressing them (2:6). James invites the rich to “weep and wail for the miseries that are coming” to them ((5:1) Revelation also warns the rich: “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:18). The great city “where all who has ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in one hour she has been laid waste” (Rev 18:19).
It is time for Christians to challenge those who exploit their fellow human beings. Isaiah and Jesus both proclaim a year of God’s favor AND a day of vengeance:
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
What goes around will come around and the “Greedy Bastards” will get their comeuppance. Those who mourn because they have been exploited and oppressed by greed will receive garlands, oil and mantels of praise. Justice will prevail and right order will be restored.