A Devotion for Wall Street

A reporter recently asked me, “As a Christian leader, does your faith have anything to say about Wall Street?”  I said, “How much time do you have?”

The Christian message has a lot to say to Wall Street.

Theologian Karl Barth said, “We have to read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.”  For too long we Christians have used our faith as a ticket out of this world rather than fuel to engage it.

In his parables, Jesus wasn’t offering pie-in-the-sky theology… he was talking about the real stuff of earth.  He talks about wages, debt, widows and orphans, unjust business owners and bad politicians. In fact Woody Guthrie breaks it all down in his song “Jesus Christ”.  The song ends with Woody singing, “This song was written in New York City… If Jesus were to preach what he preached in Galilee, they would lay him in his grave again.”

The more I read the Gospels, the more they seem to confront the very patterns of the world we live in.  At one point Mary, pregnant with Jesus cries out:  “God casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly… God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty…”  You can’t help but think if she were alive in contemporary America some folks would try to accuse the Virgin Mother of being Marxist or promoting class warfare.  But all through Scripture we see this – over 2000 verses about how God cares for the poor and most vulnerable.

What would Jesus say about Wall Street?

It doesn’t get much better than Luke chapter 12.  Jesus begins by saying, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  And then, as per usual, he tells a story.  The story is about a “rich man” whose business makes it big.  He has so much stuff he doesn’t know where to put it all.  So he decides, “This is what I’ll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones… and I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years.   Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”  But Jesus says God looks down and is not happy.  God says to the rich man, “You fool!  This very night you will die — and what will happen to all your stuff?”  And Jesus ends the teaching by saying this is how things will be for folks who store up stuff for themselves.

It does make you wonder what to do about 401k’s and pensions.  But it seems pretty clear that Jesus isn’t a big fan of stockpiling stuff in barns and banks, especially when folks are dying of starvation and preventable diseases.

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One of the constant threads of Scripture is “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Nothing more, nothing less.  Underneath this admonition is the assumption that the more we store up for tomorrow the less people will have for today.  And in a world where 1% of the world owns half the world’s stuff, we are beginning to realize that there is enough for everyone’s need, but there is not enough for everyone’s greed.  Lots of folks are beginning to say, “Maybe God has a different dream for the world than the Wall Street dream.”

Maybe God’s dream is for us to live simply so that others may simply live.  Maybe God’s dream is for the bankers to empty their banks and barns so folks have enough food for today.

Woody Guthrie may be right.  If Jesus came to Wall Street preaching the same message that he preached in Galilee… he might land himself on a cross again.

—-
Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way.  He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borderswhich creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world.

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About the Author

Shane Claiborne

Shane ClaiborneShane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way. He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borders which creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world. His most recent book is Red Letter Revolution, which he co-authored with Tony Campolo.View all posts by Shane Claiborne →

  • http://www.emergingmummy.com Sarah@EmergingMummy

    Absolutely brilliant. Thank you.

  • Andy J. Funk

    Good thoughts on the subject Shane. Could have gone with fewer clichés, though…;)

  • Jim4Him

    It also makes you wonder about the protesters, too, though, when their greed makes itself manifest in statements like:
    take their (“the rich”) money and give it to me, because I deserve it more than they do!
    I want my college debts paid for by them (“the rich”)
    I want free health care paid by them (“the rich”)
    We need to take their money away and give it to the government (higher taxes — how much is ‘more’?)

    etc. The Gospels and Epistles speak clearly about not envying others for what they have. Paul speaks of being content in all circumstances, whether rich or poor. And the verses about not judging based solely on appearance: how many of the protesters can honestly say they know what every one of the “1%” REALLY do  with their money? How many foundations, scholarships, research projects, health care initiatives, etc. do they fund?

    Going back to the Old Testament, we have the image of the Ten Commandments telling us “Do not covet your neighbors wealth”.

    No, I think it is a mistake to take sides in this issue. We don’t know that the 1% are greedy crooks, and we don’t know that the protesters (they don’t represent 99% of Americans) are there for altruistic motives.

    In Him,
    Jim

    • SpeedyGonzales

      Paul talks about being content with enough not about being content without having or caring for those who have nothing. People are dying and are lost forever! Love thy Neighbor as thy Self. What makes that statement so hard to understand? Most protesters want the opportunity to WORK!

      • April Emery

        I am sure I will spark debate with my comment but if the protestors want the opportunity to work then why don’t they stop protesting (in the wrong place mind you) and seek out a job

        • Aaaaaaaaaaaargh

          So you happen to know that all of the protestors are laggards who just haven’t tried to find work?  Sorry, your comment is talk-radio jingoism.  It’s too easy to lump “them” all into a single category.  Life is more complicated than that…

          • April Emery

            I was speaking to the “most of the protestors” that SpeedyGonzales referred to.

    • Larry Williams

      I think what we’re seeng is the “poor,” becoming covetious. Hey covetiousness is a problem with the rich as well as with the poor, make no mistake about it! And then there is the “bearing false witness against your neibhours”. Nothing rong with protesting against greed, but like anything else in life, we always need to check our motives.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/6TMWGADCHW3VVQNLI3PRTGFSRY Cynthia

      Jim, you wrote, “…how many of the protesters can honestly say they know what every one of the “1%” REALLY do  with their money? How many foundations, scholarships, research projects, health care initiatives, etc. do they fund?”  We don’t know. The wealthy don’t open up their accounts for our review. Indeed, some go to great lengths to hide their wealth.

      I note that you mention only positive things the wealthy might do with their wealth (foundations, scholarships, etc), but fail to suggest less positive options: Cayman Island, Swiss Bank accounts, business initiatives that transfer jobs overseas, or, donations to candidates intent on defunding government initiatives for infrastructure repair or public education. For instance, a very brief glimpse into Mitt Romney’s tax documents showed that he gave away $7 million in charitable contributions and $30 million to Caymen Island and Swiss Bank accounts.  But, he’s only one billionaire among many. No conclusive evidence there.

      What we do know is that in the recent financial crisis, top executives at financial companies continued to receive bonuses worth millions of dollars after almost destroying their firms and receiving billions of dollars from the federal government. Some of these executives made their money while actually betting against the American economy. There were no trials, there was no accountability.

      We also know that while the top 1% has done very well over the past 30 years, the wages and wealth of the remaining 99% has remained stagnant or declined substantially.

      Why?  Because as taxes on the wealthy were significantly reduced and high-paying jobs were automated or sent overseas, the bargaining power of wage earning Americans was seriously diminished.

      The wealthy in this country are benefitting more and more from our strong military, public education system (even most private universities receive government student loans and funding), infrastructure, and legal system; they should pay substantially more in taxes.  Fair is fair.

      And finally, if you’re going to quote scripture to admonish people…

      The 10th commandment: it’s not wrong to “covet” affordable health care for your children, a reasonably priced college education, a car, a roof over your head; it’s only wrong to covet that of your neighbors.  It’s okay for people to want better lives for themselves and their children, right?

      And then, finally, there’s the always popular Matthew: 19:23-24: “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If you’re going to use scripture to encourage poor or middle class Americans to not envy their wealthier compatriots, then you  also have to encourage the rich to give up their wealth…wherever it may be hidden. 

  • SpeedyGonzales

    My question to Shane is how do use the current situation to welcome and encourage all who are to willing to listen to the words of Jesus. How do we get the message out that yes there were wealthy christians in Biblicial times but they were held to a standard of responsibility towards the workers.
    How is it that common sense is completely thrown out the door by so many in the Christian community in that they are willing to literally allow so many to die in preventable hunger and health due to monetary profit over human life.
    Some how there has to be a coming together of Believers who live their lives in a true commitment to values of providing opportunity. For at the very least, food and shelter. The Bible does say to those that are physically able to work, to work as if they are working for Jesus. As I see it, it is a very high standard  in that Jesus died for us.
    We have to look at great movements of Faith from history. It has been at times of distress that humanity steps back and seeks answers to existence.
    Happiness for so many is not a new I-pod but a meal and shelter. We as believers should cry ourselves to sleep each and every night knowing that millions are in great suffering and ask God how WE can make a difference.
    First we feed the mortal body and then we can preach the trully wonderful word of Jesus Salvation for ALL!

  • Becrandall

    What about the parable of the talents? What does the bible say about just occupying something as a means of protest? I agree that we are required biblically to care for the poor the orphans and the widows, but where is the church in all of this. In Acts the Apostles assigned two people to care for that ministry. Where is the Church in supporting the poor, widows and orphans? Corporate America has dropped the ball, but so has the church in America.

    • Jim4Him

      The Church has ceded (or had taken) her responsibility to the poor and needy to the government. And now, when a Church attempts to take that responsibility back on (soup kitchens, food pantries, over-night shelters, women’s centers, orphanages/foster home centers, etc), they get hit by a list of rules and regulations about how they do it and what they can say when they do it (e.g., no preaching; no excluding because of lifestyle choices).  It’s sad, but in many ways we brought it on ourselves.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/6TMWGADCHW3VVQNLI3PRTGFSRY Cynthia

        “And now, when a Church attempts to take that responsibility back on (soup kitchens, food pantries, over-night shelters, women’s centers, orphanages/foster home centers, etc), they get hit by a list of rules and regulations about how they do it and what they can say when they do it (e.g., no preaching; no excluding because of lifestyle choices).”

        Nope, Not true. It may be true when a Church accepts money from the state or federal government, but, otherwise, go for it! If a soup kitchen or orphanage is privately funded, there are no restrictions on preaching or excluding certain lifestyles.

  • Anonymous

    Good points Shane as well tough questions.

    It does make you wonder what to do about 401k’s and pensions. But it seems pretty clear that Jesus isn’t a big fan of stockpiling stuff in barns and banks, especially when folks are dying of starvation and preventable diseases.

    This is pretty key here and something which with I struggle.  It’s something the 99% would do well to consider as well.  It’s too easy to sit there and criticize the “1%” or even the top “10%,” but the vast majority of us outside the truly poor are part of this.  We are all storing up treasures on Earth.  Jesus has something to say to us.  It’s not just “them” that are the problem here.  I’m waiting for some more introspective thinking from the OWSers and those that support them. How serious are we about tackling the problems of materialism and consumerism that pervade our culture?  Who are we willing to offend in the process?  Just the super-rich 1%?  Is that all?

    • jaelu

      good thinking.
      Jesus condemns greed, and that is what the “99%” are saying about the “1%”. but say, if one of us (the 99%) were in the position of the 1%, wouldn’t be act the same way (i hope not! but, it’s human nature)? an opportunity for more money…
      but, i like your way of thinking too.
      this definitely has to apply to the whole 100%.

      • Aaaaaaaaaargh

        Absolutely.  I’m sure I’d be quite happy to stay in a position of privilege for my whole life, thank you very much (if I ever got there).  God’s not done with me yet, though!

  • Anonymous

    Jesus loves the 100%, and we are called to demonstrate that love in caring for all, economically and spiritually

  • Benmanben

    There is a difference between being a socialist and GIVING to the poor. This is ridiculous.

    I’m about done with this site.

    • Aaaaaargh

      And yet you keep coming back…there’s hope for you yet!

    • http://jesusjusticeandjargon.blogspot.com/ Schuyler Stallcup

      Where in this article does Shane advocate for governmental socialism? Help me understand. Please.

  • April Emery

    Karl Barth is a heretic.

    “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Yes, Jesus said this but he also did not say just because you have an abundance of anything that you are considered sinful. True it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, but Jesus died for the wealthy, the poor and those in between.

    • Aaaaaaaaaaaargh

      At the same time, God demonstrates a heart of compassion toward the poor, explicitly, many times in the Bible.  Nowhere does He mention a particular fondness for the rich as a category (I am NOT claiming that God doesn’t love the rich!).

      “Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

      • Jim4Him

        However, Jesus DID count the rich among his friends: Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, etc. Even Zacchaeus was not condemned for being rich, and nowhere did he claim he was giving all he had to become poor — only HALF, and that he wouldn’t cheat anyone again.

      • April Emery

        Supporting your arguments by quoting people doesn’t convince me. Like I said in my reply (and Jim4Him commented) … I believe there are enough instances in Scripture to prove that yes, ignoring the poor is wrong … but so is totally despise those who have much. JIm4Him made a great point regarding that.

        • Aaaaaaaaaargh

          Before you dismiss Bonhoeffer, learn who he is and prove to me that you have the right to ignore his witness.  I’m only quoting him because his remark encapsulates so much of what both Old and New Testaments (and Jesus…) have to say about the poor.

          All this rushing to defend the rich seems to me a perfect example of WHY that quote was so relevant.

  • Dr. Good
  • Koop1975

    While I won’t join any movement such as OWS, I can appreciate the sentiment. Too often in the last 60-some years, Americans have been worshipping at the wrong altar – the altar of the free market, the altar of the dollar, the altar of manna. I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, but if I know anything about God, I know God doesn’t care whether a nation calls itself “capitalist” or “socialist”; if the people of the world are not taking care of each other, they are not doing God’s will, period. To my understanding, there is no message more basic or clear in the bible. 

    I would not argue that capitalism is inherently evil – at it’s best, it could be about increasing and improving the lives of all, growing the pie for everyone, to borrow from the bad analogy. I suspect the sentiment behind most of the recent protests isn’t over that idealistic sort of capitalism – it’s over the sort of capitalism that simply seeks to increase the size of one’s own piece of the existing pie, normally at the expense of the other pieces. 

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    Great points, Shane. Certainly, Jesus is not as big a fan of the American Dream as we sometimes may be; however, I wonder if he would advocate for an institutionalized redistribution of wealth.

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely.
      Jesus came to pronounce ‘Jubilee’ – Luke 4:18-19 – Quoting from Isaiah 61
      “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
         because he has anointed me
         to proclaim good news to the poor.
      He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
         and recovery of sight for the blind,
      to set the oppressed free,
        to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” http://tinyurl.com/6af67r8
      The ‘Year of the Lord’s favor’ is another way of saying Jubilee as described in Leviticus 25.
      The world can’t afford the American Dream, but we can all do with getting to grips with some redistribution.

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        and who does the redistribution? unless it’s Jesus, I’m a little skeptical or the motives behind the re-destributors.

        • alexgreen

          I think the call is for people to recognise they can and sometimes possibly perhaps should be the ones redistributing their own wealth.
          Otherwise it can only be sensibly done prayerfully and carefully by people with no vested interest of their own in gaining anything fromthe redistribution.
          My prayer is that it isn’t an organised thing but that people see needs and meet them with appropriate redistribution. Surely it’s better if it’s a private thing – left hand right hand and all that!
          But what do I know?

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  • http://jesusjusticeandjargon.blogspot.com/ Schuyler Stallcup

    I don’t understand some of these comments. It’s like some of you don’t even read the article or already know how you’re going to criticize before you read anything other than the title. Where in this article does Shane advocate for governmental socialism?! Where does he support the Occupy Wall Street protests?! He is simply describing how he believes Jesus would feel about the toxic consumerism and greed of our broken society. He backs it up Biblically and does it lovingly and disarmingly. Please, someone tell me where your beef is with this article.

    • USA1

      Maybe God’s dream is for us to live simply so that others may simply live. Maybe God’s dream is for the bankers to empty their banks and barns so folks have enough food for today.

      The above is the very basis of socialism.  And, it is not what God’s dream is.  God requires us to worship him.  The Old Testament paints the physical picture of worship.  The New Testament confirms it with an internal equivalent.  Christianity isn’t about liberalized utopia.  We are here to do God’s work, not sit around just loving each other. The world is fallen.  God uses us to point the way back.  It will always be work until we die.  From this utopian live and love and exist philosophy comes MARX.

      • http://jesusjusticeandjargon.blogspot.com/ Schuyler Stallcup

        That is not governmental socialism. If he had said, ” Maybe God’s dream is for the government to force the bankers to empty their banks and barns so folks have enough food for today,” THAT WOULD BE ADVOCATING GOVERNMENTAL SOCIALISM. And socialism on a small, community level IS Biblical. Let’s see what Acts says:
         “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need…No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

        Those crazy Marxist apostles and their liberalized utopia.

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  • USA1

    Good points that go too far and over generalize.  “And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man”. “And the famine was over all the face of the earth: and Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians”  Hard to believe people can pull words from the Bible and twist it to some kind of socialist agenda.  God asks for 10%.  It is clear it is ok to be rich.  But we know it is difficult for the rich man to put down the things of this world and serve Him.  But, the parable above you site from Luke in no way makes me think I am greedy for saving for a retirement.  Who should take care of me in old age? The government?  The greatest thing to fear for Christians is a bloated government.  Look at the one we have.  It has kicked out God from school and is kicking the 10 commandments out of the basis of our laws.  The US government is following the lead of Europe.  Europe is on the verge of financial collapse and being taken over by Muslims.  The only reason we have survived this long as free men and women is our following of God’s principles.  These principles led to our constitution, small government, and free markets.  Now we use the Bible to distort even who we are.  The protestors are suspect because they are being organized by the likes of the teamsters, acorn, and a President that approves of same sex marriage, gays in the military, did not have a national day of prayer, and is a fake Christian.  And, the protestors are motivated by ultimate greed.  They say “you have something we want, so give it to us, or we will take it from you.  Yes, Government is taking away from the motivated worker to give to the unmotivated lazy.  Stop big government and unleash capitolism and free us from secularism and America will rise like a rocket shot into space.

  • USA1

    Good points that go too far and over generalize.  “And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man”. “And the famine was over all the face of the earth: and Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians”  Hard to believe people can pull words from the Bible and twist it to some kind of socialist agenda.  God asks for 10%.  It is clear it is ok to be rich.  But we know it is difficult for the rich man to put down the things of this world and serve Him.  But, the parable above you site from Luke in no way makes me think I am greedy for saving for a retirement.  Who should take care of me in old age? The government?  The greatest thing to fear for Christians is a bloated government.  Look at the one we have.  It has kicked out God from school and is kicking the 10 commandments out of the basis of our laws.  The US government is following the lead of Europe.  Europe is on the verge of financial collapse and being taken over by Muslims.  The only reason we have survived this long as free men and women is our following of God’s principles.  These principles led to our constitution, small government, and free markets.  Now we use the Bible to distort even who we are.  The protestors are suspect because they are being organized by the likes of the teamsters, acorn, and a President that approves of same sex marriage, gays in the military, did not have a national day of prayer, and is a fake Christian.  And, the protestors are motivated by ultimate greed.  They say “you have something we want, so give it to us, or we will take it from you.  Yes, Government is taking away from the motivated worker to give to the unmotivated lazy.  Stop big government and unleash capitolism and free us from secularism and America will rise like a rocket shot into space.

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