I enjoy this season of politics. Watching and listening to the debates is kind of fun, albeit in a demented sort of way. The other day one politician accused another of being “for redistribution of wealth.” That comment has stuck with me, mostly because I am sad that redistribution has become a political issue. I am not sure our politicians are capable of leading this discussion. After all, redistribution is a deeply biblical idea.
In the Old Testament law, God establishes the concept of “Jubilee.” These were specific times when a reset button of sorts was hit. Wealth and land was returned to the original owners and slaves were set free. The poor had a light at the end of the tunnel and the rich knew it wasn’t going to last forever.
In the New Testament two other forms of redistribution emerge. There is the self-directed; probably best illustrated when the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ response is simple and direct – sell all his belongings and give the proceeds to the poor. The second emerges in Acts; it is the church administered redistribution. In this situation people sell everything and give the proceeds to the leaders of the church to redistribute as they deem best.
It seems that scripture supports government, individual and church based forms of redistribution. I like this multi-pronged approach. It goes beyond the political rhetoric of today and asks us to consider seriously our personal addictions and dependences to greed and wealth. This approach also allows believers to affirm all the various ways of participating in redistribution.
The government collects taxes. When those funds are prioritized in building a military industrial complex while at the same time cutting social welfare programs we need to say something. When individuals only redistribute their personal wealth to family members or the local country club this needs to be named as selfish and uncharitable. Churches that collect Sunday offerings and simply reinvest the funds into self-serving programs and buildings need to be questioned and pushed to see a world beyond themselves.
Redistribution has many purposes. For the poor, it provides hope and a future. For the wealthy, it is a reminder that security comes from a faith in God.