Luxury Communist Jesus

communistAn excerpt from Michael J. Sandford’s “Luxury Communist Jesus: Ideology, the Work Ethic, and the Antiwork Politics of Jesus” (2012).

Jesus discourages his followers from working and encourages them not to worry about the provision of material needs. The gospels give a strong impression, however, that such behaviour will not lead to impoverishment, but rather to abundance. The Jesus of the gospels does not endorse the “worldly asceticism” (Weber) of the Protestant ethic. Rather, Jesus appears to live lavishly, when the opportunity for such indulgence arises, as the comparisons that are drawn between Jesus and his disciples and the ascetic John the Baptist suggest. In Luke’s Gospel the Pharisees and scribes state, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so
do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (5: 33). Jesus
himself seems to agree that “John the Baptist has come eating no bread
and drinking no wine” (7: 33). On the other hand, Jesus states that people call him “a glutton and a drunkard” (7: 34). In stark contrast to John,
Jesus is accused of living indulgently; an accusation which neither he nor
the narrator rejects.

Jesus’ feeding miracles demonstrate the message that abundance is
attainable without the need for excessive labour. In the feeding of the four
thousand (Mt 15: 32–39 / Mk 8: 2–9) and the five thousand (Mt 14: 15–21 /
Mk 6: 35–44 / Lk 9: 12–17) ample food materialises, with a surplus of seven
(Mt 15: 37 / Mk 8: 8) and twelve baskets respectively of “leftovers” (Mt 14:
20/Mk 6: 43/ Lk 9: 17). When Jesus tells his disciples where to fish, their
nets become so full that they break, and their boats begin to sink with the
sheer weight of the haul (Lk 5: 6–7).

In John’s Gospel, at the wedding at Cana, the vats of wine that Jesus creates from water are not cheap, but rather, “the best wine” (Jn 2: 10). This
is not an endorsement of asceticism, but of luxurious living.
In order for luxury communism to be a reality, however, redistribution of wealth is necessary. Luxury for all may be possible, but it is not possible when a small number of people keep grotesquely large sums of wealth for themselves. Thus Jesus is very clear that the super rich will be required to either redistribute their wealth, or face violent consequences.

As Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel, “Everyone to whom much is given, of him
will much be required” (Lk 12: 48). It is for this reason that Jesus commands the so-called rich young ruler (Mt 19: 16–30 / Mk 10: 17–31 / Lk 18:
18–30) to “sell his possessions and give to the poor.” It is for this reason
that Jesus announces that “salvation has come to this house,” when the
rich man Zaccheus announces that he will give half of his goods to the
poor, and repay those he has defrauded (19: 8–9). It is for this reason that
Jesus pronounces woes upon the rich (Lk 6: 24). And it is for the reason
that the rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus—the one
who did not redistribute his wealth—found himself suffering eternal torment (Lk 16: 19–31).

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