Many people have a conception of Jesus that is–to put it as bluntly as possible–substantively deficient. Many envision Jesus as the prototypical religious leader who only cared for the outcast, the socially marginalized, the sick and the poor. A Marxist, revolutionary Jesus is the inevitable production of such a truncated conception. The Scriptures undoubtedly set forth Christ as one who preeminently exhibited deep and pervasive care for the poor and needy. Jesus attested to His own Messianic ministry by pointing to His compassionate miracles of healing for the needy (e.g. Isaiah 35:5 in Matt. 11:5). Additionally, Jesus teaches us that, if we are to be His disciples, we are to “invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” when we throw a feast, lest we fall into the snare of showing partiality and unjust preference to the rich who can repay us. But the Jesus of Scripture never showed partiality to the poor as over agains the rich. The Jesus of Scripture came into the world to redeem rich and poor. A brief survey of the Gospel record teaches us this important lesson–a lesson that we so desperately need to learn if we are to be faithful witnesses to the saving grace of God in Christ to all in in a day in which the rich are vilified by the poor.
In making this observation, I do not, in any way whatsoever, wish to downplay the incredibly serious dangers that accompany the accumulation of wealth. One cannot read the New Testament without being confronted with the many pervasive warnings that Christ and the Apostles raise with regard to greed. For instance, Jesus exposed the Pharisees for what they were in heart–“lovers of money.” The entire Pharisaic enterprise–and their subsequent opposition to Christ–was inseparably attached to their love of money (Luke 16:14). Additionally, Jesus gave the severest warnings about greed when He told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:1-13) and the parable about the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). The Apostle Paul raised the warning about the dangers of loving money when he wrote: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10). So many evils flow from the love of money. In fostering greed in our hearts, we put ourselves in danger of straying from the faith. James highlights some of the evils that flow from the love of money in his short but searching letter. Nearly half of the book of James is an indictment against the rich who were hearers of the word but not doers of it, who oppressed the poor, who showed partiality to other wealthy members in the church and who ultimately heaped up condemnation for themselves (James 1:10-11; 2:5-6; 5:1-2).
However, we must resist the temptation to allow the pendulum to swing in the other direction. We must resist the temptation to show partiality to the poor on account of the fact that there are many spiritual dangers that surround the rich. It is actually quite easy to convince ourselves that we are to write off the rich in favor of caring for the poor. In an age of sentimental humanitarianism, many would convince us that we are to fix all of our attention on the poor and that we are to leave the rich alone.
The redeeming love of Christ is not limited to or hindered by one’s socio-economic standing. This is good news for the poor. It is equally good news for the rich. There are echoes of this principle embedded in the Old Covenant Law of God. When the Lord gave instructions concerning the redemption price in the law, He insisted that “The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the Lord, to make atonement for yourselves” (Ex. 30:15). This ordinance was clearly typical in nature, pointing beyond it’s own context to the spiritual realm of the ransom price that Christ would pay by shedding His blood for His people. The cost of redemption was the same for the rich and the poor. There is, after all, only one cost of redemption–the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18-19). Additional principles of justice highlight this same indiscriminate concern for the rich and the poor. In Exodus 23:3, we read, “You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute.” Then in Exodus 23:6, the Lord says, “You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute.” It would be unjust to show preferential treatment to the poor in a dispute just as it would be to pervert justice for the poor in showing preference to the rich. God doesn’t judge based on socio-economic principles. He judges with righteous judgment.
The Christ who came into the world to redeem His people from their sin, indiscriminately pursued both rich and poor. Though the rich, young ruler walked away from Jesus sorrowful because he loved money more than God, the Scriptures tell us that “Jesus loved him” (Mark 10:21) while ministering to him. That account also set the stage for Jesus’ teaching about the rich entering His Kingdom:
“When Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For 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.’ And those who heard it said, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But He said, ‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God’ (Luke 18:24-27).
The oft-cited verse, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God,” is set in the context of Jesus teaching His disciples about the redemption of the rich. Immediately after teaching this principle, Jesus exhibited the reality of it when He saved Zacchaeus, who “was rich” (Luke 19:1-10).
When we scan the pages of the Old Testament, we find that there were some wealthy listed among the greatest of the redeemed. (e.g. Abraham, Job, Joseph, David, Solomon and Daniel). When we come to the New Testament, we find Jesus redeeming wealthy religious leaders like Nicodemus, as well as a number of wealthy tax collectors (e.g. Zacchaeus and Matthew). We come across financially prosperous women who cared for the Savior during His earthly ministry (Luke 8:3), as well as wealthy women who opened their homes and ministered to believers after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 16:14-15; 2 John 1). We discover that the Savior was buried “with the rich at His death” (Is. 53:9; Matt. 27:57-61). We find the Apostle Paul teaching Timothy to “command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).
So, while we should give careful attention to the serious and severe warnings that the Lord, throughout His word, raises about the rich–we must also recognize the redeeming purposes of Jesus in ransoming for Himself a people, regardless of their socio-economic status. We must come to terms with the fact that the grace of God is not hindered by socio-economic status. We must understand that rich and poor need the same costly redemption–salvation through the blood of Jesus. And, we must labor to see the wisdom of God in redeeming both rich and poor in this life, so that both will benefit from one another in the unique way that He has designed for them to do so in His church. We must remember the words of the Savior: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God…but, the things that are impossible with men are possible with God.”