Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Acts 4:32-25 (NRSV)
“Tell me, then, what is the source of your wealth? From whom did you receive it, and who transmitted it to them? [Can] you go back through the many generations and show the acquisition just? It cannot be. The root and origin of it must have been injustice. Why? Because God in the beginning did not make one man rich and another poor…He left the earth free to all alike. Why then, if it is common, do you have so many acres of land, while your neighbor has no portion of it?”
John Chrysostom, Twelfth Homily on First Timothy
The hungry poor shall weep no more
For the food they can never earn
There are tables spread, ev’ry
Mouth be fed
For the world is about to turn
Canticle of the Turning
* * *
When Jesus says he comes to “bring good news to the poor,” that can’t mean anything less than the abolition of Capitalism. This is not only an issue of ethics, politics, or economics, but one of worship.
The God whom Christians worship is the Triune Lord. This means that the source of all existence is the eternal, overflowing exchange of divine love; the Lord creates the heavens and the earth as an incarnation of God’s own abundant life. Because the gift of creation embodies who God is, the earth produces enough for everyone to have what we need to delight in one another and in God’s presence with us.
Capitalism is then not only an unjust economic arrangement, though it is certainly that, but a form of idolatry. The ruling class seizes God’s gifts through primitive accumulation, extracts every last drop of value from those gifts to satisfy its gluttonous profit motives, and then justifies these violences by attributing them to the providence of an Invisible Hand whose goodness we must not question. In these ways, Capitalism institutionalizes what the Scriptures call “sin,” the exploitation of God’s good gifts. The subjection of the working class for the extraction of wealth is then not only unjust, but demonic.
There is no reforming such a system, which grinds up the reformers inside their impossible tasks just as in different ways it grinds up the poor they wish to aid. Poverty is not a sad side effect of Capitalism, but the threat held before every worker that keeps us in competition with one another. A sprinkling of social justice will not keep this whole arrangement from tasting so foul. Truly good news for the poor would have to announce a different kind of world.
During Advent, we wait for Jesus to come in the hope that he makes a different kind of world possible. Jesus’ flesh incarnates the gift of divine love which invites us to be baptized into the body where every member holds all things in common. This means the rich must repent by casting off their riches and giving them back to their neighbors, to whom those riches always belonged anyway.
That call to economic redistribution, and by it the abolition of the ruling class, is not an aside, extraneous to some primal spiritual truth called the Gospel; holding all things in common is the Gospel. Economic justice is how Christ’s Body returns to the abundance of creation and comes to enter once again into the infinitude of divine love. This is “good news to the poor,” not just the palliation of our pain, but a whole new creation.
Kevin Georgas is Co-Pastor of Worship and Teaching at Jubilee Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, NC. He tweets at @revkevgeo.