Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
One of the things we all know is that Christians are meant to tithe. We might well have a debate as to whether the 10% we give away should we based on pre-tax income or post-tax income, or even whether it is 10%, but what we all agree on is that we are meant to give away some proportion of our income.
And of course, there is a good biblical basis for such behaviour. In previous posts, I have written about the Levitical code that required the people of Israel to set aside a tenth of their produce for the widows, the poor, the foreigners and the Levites. But as we turn to the New Testament, something different seems to be going on. The emphasis in numerous NT passages is not on a tithe on income, but a title on wealth. This passage from Luke is just typical. Jesus' instruction was not to take the excess of our income and give away a proportion, his instruction was that we sell some possessions and give those proceeds away. And while the same point is made in relation to the rich young ruler (Luke 18) the instruction here is to us all. It does not just seem to be a command to the rich.
I've been reading Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-first Century recently. His fundamental point is that as soon as we have wealth - whatever its form - that wealth will almost always generate a greater growth in value than growth in income from work. This is another way of saying the rich will always get richer - unless we intentionally do something about it. We saw this in the wealth inequality stats from the UK discussed earlier. Wealth inequality outstrips income inequality and has been doing for some time.
All of this makes me wonder if Jesus knew what he was talking about. During early Judaism, the mechanism of wealth redistribution was the Jubilee principle (at least in theory) in which every 50 years all debts were cancelled and land was returned to its original owners. In 1st Century Palestine, this would have no longer been effective because the economy was far less land-based. Perhaps therefore in encouraging us to sell our possessions and give to the poor, Jesus was giving us a jubilee principle for the 1st Century, and possibly for the Twenty-First too!
The Bible And Tax - Revd David Haslam's in-depth exploration of the Biblical precedents for the Tax Justice Campaign with reference to both the Old and New Testaments and to theologian Ched Myers' ideas of 'Sabbath Economics'. Physical copies can be purchased at a cost of £1 per copy, £5 for 6 or £10 for 12. Email us at mail (at) catj.org.uk for more information..