Debt Codes and Financial Exploitation

There is a strong contrast in today’s scripture readings. Again, relying on Ched Myers’ analysis, we can see that Jesus is repudiating the debt code of the hierarchical leaders in Israel. Forgiving the sins of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof is blasphemy to the religious leaders who want to continue the oppression of the debt code over the crowd (ochlos) that follows Jesus.

The “crowd” according to Myers and Korean theologian, Byung-mu, is the 99% of today. One characteristic of the crowd is that ‘[t]hey are alienated from the Jewish leadership, and thus largely supportive of Jesus in his struggle against that leadership.” Sound familiar?

Mark is painting a picture of leaders who oppress and marginalize. He sees the leaders as exploiting the crowd, the people of the land (‘am ha’aretz). The majority of Jesus’ followers were outcasts who had lost their farms to large landowners because they could no longer pay the taxes and tithes.

Yet, in Samuel’s day their forebears clamored for a king so they would have someone to rule them and to  lead them in warfare—a fine tribal instinct. Whether it be kings, presidents or prime ministers the results will be the same as they were forecast in Samuel’s day:

“The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows:
He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses,
and they will run before his chariot.
He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups
of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers.
He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting,
and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.
He will use your daughters as ointment makers, as cooks, and as bakers.
He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves,
and give them to his officials.
He will tithe your crops and your vineyards,
and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves.
He will take your male and female servants,
as well as your best oxen and your asses,
and use them to do his work.
He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.
When this takes place,
you will complain against the king whom you have chosen,
but on that day the LORD will not answer you.” (1 Sam 8 )

The basic thrust is that the leader will exploit the people and burden them into subjection with military service, debt codes, and purity codes. The leaders of today, heavily influenced by special interest lobbyists, have oppressed us with debt codes—complex, unregulated financial structures which bleed the masses while filling the coffers of the 1%. Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex. He dropped “congressional” from the text when he delivered the speech. Today, Ike would warn us about the military-industrial-congressional-multinational complex which is raiding our wealth and eliminating the middle class.

How arrogant and brazen of a politician of the 1% to assert that the 99% is criticizing the wealthy because they are envious! The 99% is not envious. The 99% is furious that our leaders are complicit in financial structures which do not put back into the common good. The 99% is furious that billionaires pay no taxes while children go to bed hungry every night because their parents cannot find employment. The 1% is proposing new debt codes to strangle the crowd—enrollment in GED courses and drug tests. The 99% is outraged because the 1% can fly to the Mayo Clinic for treatment while the sick among us cannot get treated by the doc in a box on the corner.

The Samuels of today—John Dear, Daniel Berrigan, Phyllis McAllister, and Jeff Dietrich, among others—would say:

The rights of the presidents who will rule you will be as follows:

They will offer bonuses and incentives to entice your sons and daughters to fight their wars for oil and other valuable resources so they can maintain their bloated lifestyles. They will deregulate financial structures so that you will lose your houses and/or farms and you and yoru children will labor at minimum wage at Walmart and McDonalds. They will continue to deregulate financial structures so that you will be taxed more and more (tithes) while the 1% goes largely untaxed. When in deep distress you call upon God for deliverance, God will not alleviate your misery because you stood by and allowed them to destroy this country and its backbone, the middle class, so they could amass more and more wealth in their silos.

The Samuels of today call the 99% to action to restore what is great about America. They, by their lives and actions, show that everyone must act.

Jesus the Christ will repudiate the financial structures which exploit, extract, and oppress—modern day debt codes. Jesus then-the Risen Christ now will empower us to restore a foundational focus on the common good. The Christ will enable us to live Gospel values which affirm the right of every human being to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, including food, clothing, shelter, education and health care. The standard will no longer be, “I’ve got mine. You just try and get your share of the American pie.” The renewed standard will be, “What are you doing for the least among you?”


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