If you're rich, Biblical scholar Ched Myers has some bad news for you. "Here's the terrible news of the Bible: God is against rich people," Myers said during a recent lecture at the Christian Faith Baptist Church in Southeast Raleigh to a gathering of about 50 religious activists.
Myers used the Gospel account of "the rich young man" to illustrate his argument that capitalist economics is antithetical to the Biblical message of good news for the poor.
Myers, who is best known for his 1988 book Binding the Strong Man, a political reading of Mark's Gospel, spoke about what he calls "Sabbath economics."
Myers' talk, "Practicing Sabbath and Jubilee in Daily Life," was sponsored by local members of the Sabbath Economics Collaborative, a national group of theologians, activists and others who are working to promote Sabbath economics.
In his 2001 book, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics, Myers defines Sabbath economics. "At its root, Sabbath observance is about gift and limits: the grace of receiving that which the Creator gives, and the responsibility not to take too much, nor to mistake that gift for a possession."
In Mark's account, a rich young man asked Jesus, "What must I do to receive eternal life?" After saying he obeys all the commandments, Jesus tells the man there is one more thing he must do.
"Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven, and come follow me." (Matthew 10:17-21)
The rich man, saddened because he won't give up his wealth, just walks away, which leaves the disciples flabbergasted because Jesus was putting "unreasonable demands on a person of wealth," Myers said, "which is exactly the reaction you're going to get when you try to go to your church and talk about Sabbath economics. Immediately they're going to say, 'Oh now why are you dogging the rich people?' They're going to call you Communist."
Like Jesus, who told the rich man he loved him, churches need to be challenged with tough love, Myers said.
The love people often have for their congregations is a "sort of soft love," Myers said. "We don't actually love our people enough to say that our affluence is killing us."
John Parker of Raleigh, a local member of the Sabbath Economics Collaborative, said his group is engaged in an interfaith effort to get faith communities interested in Sabbath economics "with an eye toward nurturing local economies." The group promotes increased giving and the use of "economic practices that honor and preserve the environment, reduce consumption and not feed the system that continues to concentrate power with corporations and the elite."
For more information about Sabbath economics, contact Parker at JohnParker@nc.rr.com.