What Would Jesus Take?
This week Rush Limbaugh, a conservative political talk show host here in the good old U.S.A., shouted and banged his fists on his desk while arguing about Jesus. Mr. Limbaugh was fulminating about a liberal political talk show hostess who had dared to mention Jesus on her morning program. And Rush was fighting mad! ABC’s Christiane Amanpour had made this statement to her viewers: “As Christians around the world celebrate Easter, we ask some of America’s most influential pastors, in these turbulent times, has America lost its way? Taxes and budget cuts. What would Jesus do?”
Rush ranted a bit: “A favorite tactic of the left, you know, when it suits them they’ll talk about Jesus Christ….” He went on fussing that liberals try to make Jesus into a liberal who would stand up for the downtrodden and tax the very rich, whereas Jesus is really a conservative who would never tax the very rich but would balance the budget by cutting out aid to the poor.
Rush continued on arguing his point with these words. “You know the real question is, Ms. Amanpour and the rest of you who seek to co-opt Jesus Christ as simply another prop in your march toward the decline of America. The question is not what would Jesus do, the question is not what would Jesus cut, the question is what would Jesus take? That’s the question you never want to answer. That’s the question you never want to ask. …Who would Jesus Christ decide they got too much and we’re gonna take it from ‘em. …….No, Ms. Amanpour, it’s exactly on the path you and your friends in the media and your president have chosen, the path toward decline, right on schedule. Who would Jesus decide they got too much? ( the rich?) And we’re gonna take it from ‘em? You can try co-op Jesus Christ for your cause all you want … Taxes and budget cuts, what would Jesus do? Well what would Jesus take? That is the question people need to ask to put this in perspective. Of course the answer is nothing. …..”
Rush Limbaugh seems to be speaking for Jesus, a new improved political Jesus, of course. The question that Rush is trying to answer is this: how much would Jesus tax the rich so that the poor and elderly in the U.S.A. could continue getting help. “Of course the answer is nothing” Rush insists. Jesus would never expect the very rich to give any of their wealth in taxes– “ nothing” – no taxes from the wealthy to keep Medicare running and aid continuing for the elderly and the poor. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer. That must be Rush’s Jesus.
It didn’t take long for a liberal talk show host to reply. Lawrence O Donnell on late night MSNBC sounded a lot like a Fundamentalist preacher as he paced back and forth quoting one Bible scripture after another in his response to Rush the next day. O.K. Rush, what would Jesus take? Lawrence O Donnell asked. What would Jesus require from the rich – or from all the rest of us for that matter? Lawrence O Donnell disagreed with Rush Limbaugh’s belief that Jesus would expect “nothing” from the rich – no taxes at all. O Donnell actually believed the opposite! Why Jesus would require everything – our all- he insisted. And then he quoted Bible passages to try to back up his claim.
First O Donnell reads from Mark 10:17-22 where the rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what he must do to be saved. “As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good Teacher,” he asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ And the man’s face fell. He went away sorrowing, because he had great wealth.”
Next O Donnell quoted Isaiah 3: 14-15. “The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of His people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard: the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” And he followed up with Luke 14:33. “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.”
And Lawrence O Donnell, our talk show host turned evangelist finished with a scripture about the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:31-46. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, …all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. 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, 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 gave 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 it 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.’ Then they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Lawrence O Donnell ends his program by inviting Rush to find a Bible passage anywhere that says that Jesus would be upset that the rich might be required to be generous to the poor. And so it goes. This argument will never be resolved. What would Jesus take (require) of the rich? Is Jesus a liberal or a conservative? Or is He neither?
The Bible tells about a man who comes to Jesus and asks Him to take half of the inheritance money from his brother and give it to him. Let’s listen to what Jesus has to say when it comes to getting involved politically here. “‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied: ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or an arbiter between you?’” (Luke 12:13-14)
Jesus also says: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) Perhaps we are blaspheming Jesus Christ when we try to represent His message as being partly political? Could we Christians be grasping for more power when we dare to combine church and state. Maybe we are adding to the Word when we mix our own political leanings into our church teachings as part of the one true Christian faith. How many seekers have been turned away from the Lord because many of our churches have become so political? I know several.
I wonder if the question for Christians should be: “What would Jesus ask?” Rather than “What would Jesus take?” I personally believe that Jesus would ask us to love one another and to give to the poor. He would ask us to be compassionate and be our brother’s keeper. We know that Jesus cares deeply about the needy and He wants us to care too.
I could be wrong but I don’t believe that the Lord would want our country to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly and the poor and the desperate by taking away their safety net, even if the wealthy did have to pay more taxes. I believe that God speaks to us through the Bible telling us to give to the needy. I believe He asks us to do that and I believe God wants our country to do that too. But He “asks” us, He doesn’t “take” from us. He waits for our answer. God always seems to respect our free will. He leaves the decision, right or wrong, to us-and to our country. God won’t force us or our country to take care of our poor. Sometimes I really wish He would!