instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, January 04, 2010

Poor Jesus!

The economic status of Jesus, both as a child and in His public ministry, is used as an illustrative example in some strains of two very different systems of moral theology. In some tellings of the Prosperity Gospel, Jesus was rich, or at least reasonably well off. In some tellings of the Social Gospel, His whole life was one of not-quite-destitute poverty. In both sorts of tellings, Jesus' own economic state is the one God wills for each of us.

I have my suspicions that, sometimes, Jesus' economic status is inferred from a given approach to moral theology, when if anything it should be the other way around.

The Catholic tradition favors a poor Jesus, though there is a strain of pious belief that Joseph and Mary each came from, maybe not wealth, but relative economic security. But the Catholic tradition does not see the quantity or quality of Jesus' worldly goods as something to be universally emulated. Rather, it's the spirit in which He regarded all worldly goods that we are to live by.

I wonder how far it could be argued that the traditional break between Jesus' "private life" and His public ministry makes questions about His family's wealth irrelevant to His mission of revelation and salvation. We are curious about such things because we want to know the One we love better, not so much because we want to replicate His private life in our own.

In any case, I think questions of economic poverty fade to insignificance next to questions of existential poverty. The poverty of the manger in Bethlehem is not chiefly economic; it is, first and foremost, the poverty of One who was in the form of God, yet emptied Himself, being made in the likeness of men. This is the message of Bethlehem, of the whole Gospel. Not, "God wants you to be rich like His Son," nor, "God wants you to be poor like His Son," but, "God wants you to be loved like His Son."

(Link via Catholic and Enjoying It!.)