By Randy Woodley
Socialism and Capitalism are political and economic products of modernity and cannot easily be forced on historic figures in the pre-modern world, including Jesus. One can undoubtedly proof-text the Scriptures to make Jesus fit into one’s own ideology, whether it be Socialism, Capitalism, Communism, Theocracy or perhaps even Fascism. Jesus lived under a different set of political classifications—but his direct preference for economic governance, regardless of how it fits into any political system, was what he referred to as the “Kingdom of God.”
The Kingdom of God was a holistic system that acknowledged the Creator God as being in charge of all of life and viewed its adherents as people living out Kingdom values on the earth. The idea of the Kingdom came directly through the Hebrew prophet’s understandings of what God’s desire on earth is for human beings. The Biblical theme expressing the values of the Kingdom is shalom. Some of the meanings associated with shalom are: peace, prosperity, security, restoration of creation, health, justice, equity, and restored relationships. Jews in Jesus’ time were expecting this to occur on “the great day of the Lord,” also referred to as “Jubilee.”
As I stated, we can’t impose a modern political system on Jesus, but if your definition of Capitalism is remotely like the most simple Wikipedia definition (“Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production distribution are privately owned and operated for a private profit”), based on the shalom concept, we can assume Jesus would not have made a good capitalist. Here are just a few examples:
Jesus’ mother, who surely influenced him, was a stout, anti-establishment proponent for taking money and power from the rich and giving it to the poor.
And Mary said…for the Mighty One…has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. Luke 1:49-53
Mary, nor all the ancient prophets to whom she is giving a nod, would not have made good capitalists.
Jesus’ birth, life and death exemplified God’s preference for the poor and marginalized of society. God could have come to earth in any form or social status. Yet, Christ was born poor, his family became refugees, he was sometimes homeless, he hung out with the most marginalized people in society and he died a criminal’s death. The first people to witness his birth were shepherds and the first people to witness his resurrection were women. People from these groups were not able to testify in legal court. None of this sounds like a sound capitalistic strategy.
Jesus stood at his hometown in Nazareth and proclaimed himself to be the one fulfilling the Jubilee system to which Mary and the Hebrew prophets were pointing. Jubilee is based on God’s preference for a whole economic system that sounds nothing like Capitalism. Simply put, it was a reoccurring form of granting equity that made sure the earth and people were not over abused by concerns of a profit margin by the wealthy. It allowed the earth time to heal from over use and abuse; it returned land to its original owners so wealth was not passed down generationally (much more effective than an inheritance tax); it wiped out debt so the poor who were enslaved by debt and the social consequences of it could get another chance; and it set prisoners free (those not guilty of capital crimes) which in our day, would destroy the whole capitalistic driven Prison-Industrial Complex.
Jesus announced at Nazareth that he would:
…bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor [JUBILEE] has come. Luke 4:18-19
In light of these, and hundreds of other passages, there is no way to interpret Jesus as being “pro-capitalism.” The good news of Jubilee and its subsequent shalom values for living, was bad news to the rich and powerful because it took capital from them to give to the poor, oppressed and marginalized of society. God’s preference for the poor and marginalized is a critique of our modern Capitalistic system. While it would be inappropriate to try and squeeze Jesus to fit modern forms of Socialism, I believe we can say for sure that he would not approve of America’s modern form of Capitalism.
God’s economic system of preference is Shalom and it is always tested on the margins of a society, on the powerless, the poor, the oppressed and the economically, politically and socially marginalize. It is what Mary and the Hebrew Prophets were waiting for. It is what Jesus came to bring. And, it is what we actively wait with God for now…