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I don’t get up in arms about too much. I’m not even here to argue whether socialism is good or bad. Whatever I think about socialism, Jesus simply didn’t advocate it. Let me explain why.

First, the definition of socialism. Here’s a direct copy and paste of the relevant definitions from Mirriam-Webster:

Definition of socialism

  1. 1:  any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

  2. 2a :  a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b:  a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

Casually, when people refer to socialism, I believe what they mean is, “The government takes the money of people who have it, and redistributes it to those who have less of it”. I disagree with that idea, but I’m not really going to spend time here addressing personal disagreement with the philosophy. I’d rather stay focused on why Jesus didn’t support it.

Now, let me address the image above. It’s the one, or something like it, that I see most often when people want to call Jesus an advocate for socialism. This is in reference to something Jesus did that is recorded in all four Gospels. He fed a great many people. The account says 5000 men, but there were likely as many women and children as well. He fed them by taking one boy’s meal (five loaves of bread and two fish) and serving it to the rest of the assembled people, and then afterward, they collected 12 baskets of leftover food.

This was a miracle, obviously. Jesus had done something that didn’t have anything to do with political commentary, nor was it a social edict of some kind. It was compassion. Read the passage as it’s told in Luke:

Luke 9:10-17

10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14 (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Jesus had compassion on this crowd. He had just spent time healing people, though he desired some solitude and rest. This crowd followed him and pressed in on his group of disciples. They wanted to disperse the crowd, but Jesus took time for them. This sort of thing happens a second time, and is recorded in two places, and it’s probably safe to assume that he did it more than twice.
I feel like Jesus was teaching the disciples with this, as much as he was caring for the crowd, and that’s one thing I love about him. He’s not just caring, he’s clever. I imagine there was no end of teachable moments in his presence. But I digress.
Jesus fed this group himself. He used His power to do it. Yes, he borrowed someone’s food to do it, but he didn’t take a very wealthy person’s grain and make bread. He didn’t collect everyone’s money and redistribute it. He gave something of himself to make the lives of those around him better. And did that boy get his food back? And then some, I’d imagine. Government never entered into it. Neither did the rest of the society. It was personal for Jesus. His example isn’t socialism. It’s personal altruism.
We have a tendency to read into the Bible, or any text, that which we think should be there. The greek word is eisegesis, but we call it confirmation bias these days. It simply means that we take our own desire to be correct, and we read it into interpretation. In this case, that’s exactly what happens. People see Jesus’ selflessness, and they want it to support their worldview. It’s so easy to do, and I’m not attempting to belittle people for it. But we do need to be aware of the fact that it happens if we aren’t very careful. It has happened regarding things far worse than the idea of socialism. Ascribing political import to Jesus’ actions is something that caused problems even in his day. Jesus wasn’t here to establish political power, but that’s what many people assumed.
One more thing. Sometimes you see a passage in Acts taken for a socialist, or communist society that broke out in the early Christian church:

Acts 4:32-35

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.33 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 34 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 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

 

But here’s the thing about this passage. This is totally voluntary. This isn’t taxation, it’s generosity. These people, new believers from all over the place both geographically and socially, who were Jews, Romans and so forth, became united in one purpose. This wasn’t governmental. These people were caring for each other out of love for each other. This isn’t socialism either. This is what it looks like to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is much more than socialism. It is a call to care for others yourself, and a call to sacrifice willingly to make sure people are cared for. It has nothing to do with a government taking, and then redistributing wealth. No, it’s more immediate, and more personal. You don’t get to tell someone else what to do with their money/property/time. It falls to you.

And if I may, that’s why I disagree with socialism. Because it ought to never get to that point. If you’re going to cite Jesus as your template, then you’re going to have to reckon with the fact that he doesn’t ask for governmental oversight. He calls for you to take it into your own hands and care for that person next to you. That’s how he does it himself.

The Bible says that giving should be done from the heart as you are led, not from compulsion, and not with a bad attitude. It’s not “from each according to his ability” at all. It’s deeper than that. It’s “from each according to his desire”.

We don’t get to rely on other people to give, and we can’t wait on the government to compel it.

Not if we’re using Jesus as our example.

 

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2 thoughts on “Jesus wasn’t a Socialist

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