Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken
gozz@gozz.com

Monday, August 30, 2004

Jesus on taxpayer supported welfare programs according to the Gospel of Matthew 

A really good argument for welfare is found in the Gospel according to Matthew. In summary,

When reading the story of Jesus' message, the parts where he speaks of a light within really stand out to me. I believe he was referring to the ability of humans to reason within the context of a universally accessible conscience - in other words, God within all of us. It's clear that humans are not expected to fully understand what is meant by "God", but I readily accept the existence of God as far as I just described my understanding. It's just as clear to me that what Jesus is recorded as saying about how humans should treat one another strikes true to my ability to reason within the context of my conscience. So I think his message is both valid and important.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount starts at Matthew chapter 5, and represents the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The description of his message start at Chapter 4, and describes him as providing free health care - through miracles, of course, to those who would hear his words. The next 20 chapters presents the entire case. Much of it is repetitive by virtue of it's simplicity - yet it takes me a little over an hour to read. For those who would like their whistle whetted, an abbreviated version appears below as well as short responses to the three possible objections to the notion that Jesus approved of helping the poor and sick through income redistribution. Jesus words as reported in Matthew appear blue.

Matthew 5 - God desires people to be charitable towards one another

These teachings do not replace scriptural law, but expand upon it. By following these teachings, you will already be obeying the law, plus much more. One should love everybody, even your enemies, just as God does not withhold anything from anyone.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, "Raca," is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, "You fool!" will be in danger of the fire of hell.

You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 6 - providing welfare is pleasing to God, concern with worldly wealth is incompatible with pleasing God

Give to the needy not to be showy, but because it's the right thing to do and pleases God. Do not be concerned with wordly wealth, as devotion to wealth prevents service God's will.

Be careful not to do your "acts of righteousness" before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Matthew 7 - it doesn't matter if welfare recipients afford themselves luxury

Don't pass judgement on others, but rather treat them as you would wish to be treated. That, in fact, is a summary of scriptural law.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Much of the story from this point until Chapter 21 tells of Jesus healing the sick and expecting nothing in return and feeding thousands and expecting nothing in return. He did these things because people were sick or hungry, and for no other reason.

Matthew 10 - expect nothing worldly in return for your charitable giving

Jesus sends out his deciples to heal the sick, imploring them to give freely because they have received freely.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

Matthew 17 - pay your taxes

You should pay your taxes - even if they are unjust.

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes, he does," he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes - from their own sons or from others?"

"From others," Peter answered.

"Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

Matthew 19 - greed and pride are disfavorable in God's eyes

Attachment to wealth puts you out of God's favor

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired.

Jesus replied, "'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Matthew 22 - pay your taxes and treat others as you wish to be treated. A regular act of charity alone doesn't cut it

Pay your taxes. The greatest thing one can do it to love God. The second is to love others as you love yourself. Tithing itself is not a replacement for the goals at which charity aims.

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

"Caesar's," they replied.

Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Matthew 25 - no excuses for not understanding the message

If you've heard Jesus' words and followed his teachings, you will find an infinite reward. If you've heard his words and refused to embrace the message, you're in a heap of trouble.

Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"

The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

"They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?"

He will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

Now, I'm not the type of person who takes the Bible literally, it was written by men. In fact, I view the vast majority of it as silly. But Jesus had an amazing message and the only place it's recorded is in the Bible. It's impossible to understand and agree with that message and at the same time object to paying taxes for the purpose of working together to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless and provide health care to those without it.

Incomprehensibly, some self-identifying Christians will object to understanding Jesus' message. The objections come in one of three forms,

  1. This is twisting Jesus' words, the Bible doesn't tell you to make sure everybody else is helping those in need.

    This is an attempted diversion. Asking people to read Jesus' message and compare it to their view of government welfare programs isn't twisting Jesus' words, rather asking that Jesus' message be heard - and spreading that message is indeed something Jesus said to do.

  2. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says "If any would not work, neither should he eat."

    This is taking half a verse and misinterpreting it, or worse, presenting it dishonestly. 2 Thessalonians 3 is in general speaking of the work of spreading the gospel, and the verse cited is a reminder to the Thessalonians of the arrangement Paul had with them: that he worked for his keep while spreading Jesus' message to therm. Paul also emphasizes this in his first letter to the Thessalonians. It's quite obvious that he was addressing a complaint that people were sometimes too busy to help spread the message. In context, it reads,

    We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

    We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.

  3. Jesus never said the government can steal my money and give it to someone else.

    The short answer to this objection is that what Jesus said is more important than what he didn't say. The long answer is to also point again to Matthew 22:23 ("... Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.") and further point to Romans 13:

    Romans 13

    Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Jesus was a liberal in the sense that he advocated for personal income redistribution for the purpose of helping those in need, healing the sick and helping those in need, asking no earthly reward for charitable actions, and being happy to pay taxes.

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