Jesus Did Not Teach That Government Should Feed the Poor

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (M...

Once upon a time, a man asked Jesus, “How can I have eternal life?” The short version of Jesus’ answer was, “Be perfect.” The man replied, “But I already am.” Jesus said, “Hmm. Then sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” The man went away sorrowful, because he was a rich man.

I think of this story when I hear a preacher say that Christians must advocate income equity and participate in a political process of income redistribution. When Jesus told that man to give to the poor, he did not tell the man to hand over his wealth to the Roman government and agitate until the government gave it all to the poor.

Jesus emphasized giving in his teaching. He pointed out over and over that personal wealth is a gift of God to be used in grateful faithful stewardship. He is the one who said that if somebody asks you for something, give that person more than he asked for. Jesus taught generosity, and he taught that we children of God can be generous, because we can count on God to provide what we need. We will never be in want because of our generosity in the name of Christ.

Jesus never ever taught that we should make government the agent of our generosity. Jesus was born in the Roman Empire. Rome ruled a large part of the world at that time, and if Jesus had intended that his gospel be administered by a government, he could not have picked a more efficient one. Yet Jesus never suggested at any time that he wanted his followers to give their substance to the government in order that the government give to the poor on their behalf. With Jesus, giving was always personal. Jesus said that each of us is to give and give and give and love and love and love even if it hurts. When somebody asked him about government, he said, “Give the government what belongs to it. Everything else is God’s. Use God’s gifts the way God wants them used.”

The usual argument for government social programs says that everybody ought to be glad to be taxed in order to help the poor. Even Christian leaders will tell Christians they should advocate for government social programs and they should support taxation to fund those programs. They are entitled to their opinions about the government’s involvement in charity, but I do not see any justification for their allegation that this is the way Jesus wants it. Jesus did absolutely nothing that can be interpreted as an attempt to reshape the Roman government into a social agent. Jesus made his call for generosity and loving service to me, and you and all other believers.

What Jesus wants is for us to be so grateful for God’s gifts that we use those gifts generously and lovingly. Love our neighbors instead of brawling over the height of a fence. Give to the poor homeless person who asks for change. Give him more than change and tell him God loves him. Support people who are healing the sick and teaching children and digging wells to provide clean water to poor communities. But don’t give any more to the government than the government has a right to.

There are many factors that make government-funded social programs bad for people, and I will discuss those problems in another post. For this post, I will stick to the point: Jesus wants you and me and all our friends to be generous to the poor and to serve others. For this post, if you comment, please focus on what Jesus taught and said. The next post will address the reasons why Christians should work very hard to extricate charity and taxation for funding charity from the government.

For now, imagine a world in which all charities were operated by the same kind of people who run the Lutheran World Relief, Catholic World Services, the Heifer Project, and Doctors Without Borders. Imagine what you would do if you knew that there truly did not exist a government service to feed, clothe or shelter poor people. Would that make a difference in the way you respond to human needs?