作者: Peter Houston
On the verge of teenage-hood I remember pouring over a book of cartoons that dealt with the great North-South divide, politics of power, and wealth discrepancies. Brazil, in particular, featured high in my injustice-angst as there was cartoon after cartoon portraying the favelas (townships). Brazil at the time had the greatest wealth discrepancy between the “haves and the have-nots” in the world.
I am still sensitive to these issues decades later. And South Africa has displaced Brazil as the country with the highest wealthy inequity in the world. But what can we do?
Communism insists we are all equal and we need to enforce equality through centralised control (for example, the recent call to nationalise the mines in South Africa), but the reality of human nature means that there are always some who are more equal than others. Certain communist party leaders in South Africa drive luxury cars and live in fancy homes but insist they are still comrades of the masses, the people…
Capitalism insists we all have equal chances within a free and fair economy, but the reality of human opportunism means that there are always some who are more equal than others. Take, for example, the joining of a white wealthy elite by a black post-apartheid elite in South Africa, where Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) has not been broad-based or empowering for most of the dis-empowered people of South Africa. And where free-and-fair doesn’t apply to tender processes and getting business contracts. There is more than Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand at work. There are Under-Hand dealings too!
Verses that jump out at me when I read scripture are things like: “Use honest scales, honest weights, and honest measures. I am the LORD your God, and I brought you out of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19v36) In other words, “don’t you dare oppress people when I’ve just gone to all this effort to save you from being oppressed.” The prophets are my heroes for their bold challenging of the kings and priestly classes to see that justice is done in the land, because without it, our worship of the God of the Oppressed rings false. In fact the verse I love most is Micah 6v8: “What does God require of us? To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
This is not something discarded once Jesus is on the scene promising eternal life and salvation of sins. The apostle James, having hung around Jesus, heard his teaching, and been at the forefront of a new Messianic movement concludes, that ‘anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world’ (James 1v27, The Message).
It seems to me that Jesus teaches a Kingdom Economy that cuts through both Communism and Capitalism. Jesus tells a parable about God’s Kingdom where an owner of a vineyard pays a worker who works the whole day and a worker who arrives in the afternoon the same wage (Matthew 20v1-16). Jesus concludes the parable with ”So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.” In the next scene, the disciples are almost having a fist fight about who was going to get the best places in the new kingdom they anticipated Jesus was about to form (sounds like power-politics the world over). Jesus draws them aside and gives them a pep talk saying, “If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others – like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.”
That’s the key. The key to wealth inequity. Power plays. Socio-economic and environmental injustice. And the key to the Good News about Jesus being Good News! It’s the key, of that I’m certain. I’m just not sure how it fits the lock.