[Reflections on the Lectionary Reading for May 15, 2011]
Jesus did not advocate for political causes. Jesus did not ordain one form of government as the Christian form of government. Jesus didn’t embrace any economic theory. The Protestant work ethic has led many in our culture to embrace free enterprise as Christian. The combination of Russia’s embrace of communism and atheism leads many to view communism as godless.
Inconveniently for our tendency to mix culture and religion, Scripture tells us that the earliest Christian church functioned like a commune. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45, NRSV). In America today, those disciples of Christ would be accused of being disciples of Karl Marx. For American Christians it is uncomfortable to see this illustration of godly communism in our Scriptures.
Although Jesus did not advocate for or against any political or economic systems, he did talk about money. In fact he talked a lot about money. He told us that we cannot love both God and money, for then we are serving two masters. He told us that we should not spend our time and energy storing up material treasures on earth. He told at least one rich and powerful man that he must give away all his riches in order to become a disciple.
I am a Christian, and I believe that capitalism is superior to communism. I think it works better for a society. I find that capitalism is based on the recognition that people are basically selfish and greedy. It is designed to try to leverage that selfish drive for the benefit of society. I find that communism has an idealistic view of humanity. It assumes that people’s nature is good and generous. It does not yield the same benefit to society as capitalism because greed mucks up the works of communism.
My point is not to extol the virtues of capitalism. My point is to note the danger in my view. By embracing a system that acknowledges and uses greed; we run the risk of society embracing greed as a virtue. The danger for Christians would be to become disciples of capitalism. As Jesus said, we cannot serve two masters.
For those of us who are Christians, we must never fully become capitalists or communists. Both systems have their flaws. We must stand against each when it violates Christian ethics. I embrace capitalism, but I am quick to say that it must not be allowed free reign in society. We must strive to keep it in check, and we must strive to stand outside its thrall. We must never allow ourselves to fall in love with capitalism or its god: money.