- F. A. Harper, Introduction
- Gustavo R. Velasco, On the 90th Anniversary of Ludwig Von Mises
- F. A. Harper, Ludwig Von Mises
- Property and Freedom, Alberto Benegas Lynch
- Technological Progress and Social Resistance, Guillermo Walter Klein
- Principles Or Expediency? F. A. Von Hayek
- Protection For Farmers, Antony Fisher
- For a Philosophy of Choice, Lord Grantchester
- The Surest Protection, Ralph Harris
- Towards the Just Society, Ralph Horwitz
- Size and Well-being, J. Enoch Powell
- Pour Eviter “une Collectivisation Par Annuities”, René Berger-perrin
- En Défense De L'economie Libérale: Réponse à Quelques Objections, Gaston Leduc
- L'occident Pour Son Malheur a Choisi Keynes Contre Mises, Pierre Lhoste-lachaume
- Das Ordnungsdenken In Der Martwirtschaft, Ludwig Erhard
- Unsere Gesellschaftsordnung Und Die Radikale Linke, Edith Eucken-erdsiek
- Privateigentum— Die Für Mitmenschen Günstigste Lösung Bei Den Produktionsmitteln, Wolfgang Frickhöffer
- Macht Oder ökonomisches Gesetz, Ernst Heuss
- The Reliability of Financial Statements, Ulrich Leffson and Jörg Baetge
- Ist Die Inflation Unser Schicksal? Alfred Müller-armack
- Der Reiche Goethe Und Der Arme Schiller, Volkmar Muthesius
- Krise Der Politischen Formen In Europa, Otto Von Habsburg
- The Need to Make Cognizance Available, Ulysses R. Dent
- Ways to Communism, Giuseppe Ugo Papi
- Convergence Theories and Ownership of Property, Kenzo Kiga
- Soaring Urban Land Prices and Market Economy, Toshio Murata
- Jesus and the Question of Wealth, Alberto G. Salceda
- A Program For a Liberal Party, Gustavo R. Velasco
- On the Entrepreneur Andries De Graaff
- La Integracion Economica De America Latina, Romulo A. Ferrero
- Problems of Economic Responsibility and Initiative Re-emerging In Eastern Europe, Ljubo Sirc
- Rent Control In Sweden: Lessons From a Thirty Year Old Socio-economic Experiment, Sven Rydenfelt
Jesus and the Question of Wealth
Alberto G. Salceda
Professor Ludwig von Mises, who with unequaled mastery has expounded economic theory and enthusiastically defended personal liberty, writes discerningly of the influence Christianity has had on the political and economic structure of our society in his book Socialism. In it, he holds that it is impossible to reconcile Christianity with a free social order based on private ownership of the means of production, adding that “a living Christianity cannot, it seems, exist side by side with Capitalism”.
He declares that, “One thing of course is clear, and no skillful interpretation can obscure it. Jesus's words are full of resentment against the rich, and the Apostles are no meeker in this respect. The Rich Man is condemned because he is rich, the Beggar praised because he is poor. The only reason why Jesus does not declare war against the rich and preach revenge on them is that God has said: ‘Revenge is mine.’ In God's Kingdom the poor shall be rich, but the rich shall be made to suffer. Later revisers have tried to soften the words of Christ against the rich, of which the most complete and powerful version is found in the Gospel of Luke.”
I consider this to be correct if Christianity is taken as a sociological reality, as a body of doctrine that has been developing and shaping itself over twenty centuries of explanation, interpretation and discussion. The following words of von Mises are also correct: “Social ethics applicable to earthly life can never be derived from the words of the Gospels. It matters little whether they are a true and just report of what, as a matter of history, Jesus taught. For to every Christian Church these, together with the other books of the New Testament, must represent the foundation without which its essential character is destroyed. Even should historical research show, with a high degree of probability, that the historical Jesus thought and spoke about human society otherwise than he is made to do in the New Testament, its doctrines would still remain unaltered for the Church.”
I think, however, that an investigation showing that Jesus was a defender of personal liberty will be useful, even though the doctrine of Christianity remained unchanged by it. Jesus proclaimed a moral doctrine wherein man should seek his happiness here on earth, depending on his own resources and guided by his own reason. Although no political system was sustained by Jesus, he established certain moral principles from which only a system of liberty can be deduced. Since I feel this would please Professor Mises, I want to offer him, with all due respect, a synthesis of my investigations in this field, all of which have been amply presented in my book Bar-Nasha, El Hombre. Here, however, I shall only be able to present a brief summary and will have to omit many of the proofs and arguments upon which my thesis is based.
I try to show in my book that the gospels are a mixture of contradictory ideas which have to come from two distinct sources: one—the doctrine of Jesus—humanistic and individualistic, which makes reason man's only guide and happiness in this life his supreme good; the other—the doctrine of the Essenes or Qumranites—theocratic, legalistic, collectivistic, and full of guilt complexes, threats and terror. What I propose to do is to separate the authentic words of Jesus from those I believe were falsely attributed to him.
The most distinguished scholars who have studied the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran have reached the conclusion that the Qumranites—authors of guardians of the manuscripts—were the Essenes of whom Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Elder and Philo of Alexandria speak, and that they were also the authors of the books called pseudepigrapha. The scholars have also pointed to the similarities existing between the ideas found in these books and manuscripts and many of those which are expressed in the New Testament or in the first Christian writings. These similarities are so great and important that some writers such as Edmund Wilson have been led to say that the monastery of Qumran “is perhaps, more than Bethlehem or Nazareth, the cradle of Christianity.” This has led me to formulate the hypothesis that Jesus grew up and developed in an Essenic environment, but in radical contradiction to their ideas and those of his contemporaries; and that when Jesus died, the Essenes took over his name and personality, making of him the long-announced Messiah who had suffered and died for the atonement of man's sins, was resurrected and ascended into heaven, and would return triumphantly to judge the quick and the dead. I believe that the primitive Christian church was these very Essenes, and that the rapid evolution and the powerful and mature structure with which the emerging Christian Church appears are merely the development and organization already acquired by the Essenic community, and that it was precisely within this group that the gospel was drafted. Naturally, the Essenic writers of the gospel set down the ideas of their sect, but they could not avoid completely the influence of Jesus' ideas and, although partially and not always faithfully, they also inserted the words of Jesus which had been affectionately gathered by his direct disciples.
During the time of Jesus the Jewish people were dominated by the expectation of the Messiah, the prodigious being announced in the law and in the prophets. It was he who through his power and with divine help would liberate Israel from its oppressors, subjugate all nations and establish the kingdom of God—that is, a kingdom of justice, peace and prosperity for all.
This messianism is not only an historical fact of Israel and an element of the Jewish religion, but it is an attitude of the human spirit that can appear in all men, at all times and in all peoples. What else are the great social movements of our time but manifestations of a messianic desire? Nazism, Communism, Christian Democracy, and all the socialist systems are only so many other expressions of this same spiritual attitude. Under the guidance of a messiah (Il Duce, the Führer, Marx, the Pope), and by means of the domination that a select people comes to exercise over the world (Rome, the Aryan Race, the Proletariat, the USSR, China, the Catholic Church), a regime that presumably will bring prosperity and justice is, by force, to be established over all humanity.
The advent of Jesus happens within this situation of restlessness over the expectation of the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. And, Matthew, when he begins to speak of the preaching of Jesus says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying,"the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (IV,17) Naturally, those who listen to him ask, and where is it?, and Jesus replies, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’, for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Lk. XVII 20–1)
This is the key text for understanding all the gospel in order to comprehend the true meaning of Jesus' preaching. Jesus tells the people to wait no longer for that kingdom they were waiting for, that it has arrived. Is that so?, they say, and where is it? It is in you, he replies, in the interior of your soul. What is it that you look for? What is it that you wait for? Is it happiness? Well, you have it with in you; it is within your reach; it is at hand, here and now. The kingdom of God—that is happiness, peace, prosperity, justice—is something that cannot be given to us from outside, nor does it depend on anything external or structuralized. One has to attain it by oneself and for oneself. The kingdom of God is not something visible, perceptible by the senses. It cannot be pointed to with your finger; it is not made by laws or by decrees. That is why Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (In. XVIII, 36). It is not like the world's kingdoms; it is not a political organization nor a juridical regime, since it is something that happens to the soul of each man. This is confirmed by another text from Luke: “The law and the prophets go as far as John; from then on, the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and every one who wishes to enter it must make an effort.” (XVI, 16). Beginning with the appearance of Jesus on the world scene, the spiritual kingdom is announced—intimate and personal. It is one's own affair, of each individual, and each person must exert himself to enter it. The kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven is, in the words of Jesus, happiness on this earth, that which constitutes life—the true life, life eternal. All his preaching refers in one way or another to this kingdom of God—that is, to the happiness of man and to his personal welfare. And this represents the supreme good to which man must subordinate all else. “The kingdom of heaven is similar to a treasure that lies hidden in a piece of land. A man discovers it and he covers it up and, in his happiness, he goes and sells all he has in order to buy that piece of land. It is also similar to a merchant who searches for fine pearls. When he finds one of great value he goes and sells all he has in order to buy it” (Mt. XIII, 44–6). In short, all man's problems are solved in the same way as those of a business—by giving what is of less value for us, in exchange for what possesses a higher value. But, for happiness, what wouldn't one give! If happiness is the value par excellence—the value of values—because it is life, real life; what wouldn't one give to achieve it! “What benefit is it to man if he gains the whole world but loses his life?” (Mt., XVI, 26) But, for man, life is only life if he is happy. Therefore, what can they offer me so precious that I would give my happiness in exchange? “If your right eye brings you disfavor, pluck it out and throw it far from you; it is better that you lose one of your members before your whole body is thrown into Gehenna.” (Mt. V, 29) Reading the foregoing simply, it can be seen that the meaning is quite clear. If my right eye suffers from glaucoma and threatens to infect the other eye and leave me blind, what should I do? Why, have it taken out, and remain with one eye, but alive and well and able to see. Metaphorically speaking, if something is harming you, and this something is a source of unhappiness or prevents you from enjoying life fully, then you must remove yourself from it or it from you immediately, although it be something apparently important, such as your fortune, your social, economic or political, position, or even a person of your family—your wife, your children, your parents.
In all the genuine preaching of Jesus, we find the fullest individualism. Everything is centered on the individual and tends to his well-being. All arguments are based on what is to the advantage of the man addressed. “Enter by the narrow door” (Mt. VII, 13). The wide door is the one through which the masses enter—that is, those who take refuge in the crowd, those who follow the dictates of the majority, those who do not dare to deviate from established custom and only feel sure of themselves when following the opinion of others. The narrow door is that through which one must enter alone, relying on one's own resources, accepting the responsibility of one's acts, deciding and acting by oneself.
By so doing, the person who looks after his own happiness does good unto others. “No one lights a candle and covers it with a receptacle, rather it is put in a candlestick and it gives light to all in the house” (Mt. V, 15). I light my candle for myself but, in lighting it, I also give light to those who surround me. Thus, he who looks for his own happiness spreads happiness around him. In the same way, no one can enrich himself honestly without making others richer.
The question of wealth is one of those most seriously distorted in the doctrine of Jesus. Let us begin by trying to clear up the confusion that exists between two different concepts—occupation and preoccupation (worry or anxiety). Jesus recommends that, for our own good, we should not worry about wealth. But this does not mean that we should not occupy ourselves with it. By not making this distinction, it has been asserted that Jesus recommended a life of idleness, that he advised men not to occupy themselves with wordly goods and not to work. For our good, Jesus advises us not to worry about wealth. He says in his sermon on the mount, “do not fret about your life, what you eat or what you drink, nor about your body how you clothe it. Is not life worth more than food and your body worth more than clothing?” (Mt. VI, 25). This does not mean, however, that we should not occupy ourselves in obtaining food and clothing. The gospel is full of invitations to work, to occupation and to productive action, and not only for meeting immediate needs, but for providing reasonably and prudently for the future. In the parable of the dishonest steward (Lk. XVI 1–8), we find praise for the sagacity and prudence of the steward who had the foresightedness to make friends so that when he lost his job he would have persons to receive him in their houses. In the parable of the virgins, the cautious ones are presented as examples in having set aside reserves of oil. Jesus exalts storing away for future needs. Similar advice can be found in the parables of the builder and the king (Lk. XIV, 28–32).
When the collectors of the “di-drachma” tax for tribute to the temple approach Jesus, he says to Peter, “Go to the sea and throw out a line and hook and open the mouth of the first fish you catch. Inside you will find a ‘stater’. Take it and give it to them, for you and for me” (Mt. XVII, 27). Peter goes to the sea, throws out his line and catches the fish. If the fish is worth a “stater” in the market, it can be said truthfully that the fish had a “stater’ in its mouth. With the “stater” (which was worth two “di-drachmas”) both Jesus' and Peter's shares were paid. In other words, in order to defray their expenses, they resort to productive work—that is the intellectual work of Jesus on the one hand, and the physical work of Peter on the other, which after all, is similar in nature to the situation existing between an entrepreneur and his workers. The same may be said of the fishing incident related by Luke (V, 4–6). Jesus prompts his disciples to persevere in their work. They have not caught anything, but he encourages them to keep on trying, despite failure. His advice reminds us of the slogan: “If at first you don't succeed try, try again.” Is he not recommending here that we occupy ourselves with obtaining food, directly and in the first place, and, indirectly and afterwards, clothing and the rest of our necessities, as would be possible with the proceeds from a good catch of fish? The same idea of confident and calm action is illustrated in the parable of the sower and, even more clearly, in that of the talents. (Mt. XXV, 14–29) The servant who received only one talent should have invested the capital that was entrusted to him, as did his fellow servants, courageously running the risks involved. If he was not capable of managing the money himself, he should have handed it over to the bankers, in order to earn the corresponding interest. Here Jesus preaches about productive enterprise and praises the lucrative investment of money. He is inviting to action and since the action is motivated by the payment of interest, he is justifying interest. Jesus also said “Seek and you shall find, ask and you shall be given” (Mt. VII, 7). This is exemplified by the parable of the man who asks his neighbor for bread in order to provide for his friend who has arrived at his house at night after a long journey, and by the parable of the wicked judge. (Lk. XI, 5–8; XVIII, 2–5).
Jesus points precisely to the distinction between occupation and preoccupation in these words: “The kingdom of God is like a man who sows seed in the earth and though he should sleep or keep vigil night and day, the seed germinates and grows, without his knowing how” (Mk. IV, 26–9). Man needs to work in sowing the seed but once this is done he should retire and rest confidently and calmly. The seed will germinate and grow whether the sower sleeps or keeps vigil, so what good would it do for him to keep awake?
If we now return to the sermon on the mount and keep in mind the distinction we have established, we shall see that the only thing that Jesus tried to combat was preoccupation—that is, anxiety, worry. All this pericope is a hymn to joy, tranquility and confidence in God (which is confidence in oneself) and a warm invitation to get rid of one's worries. They are not only useless, but self-defeating for achieving the material end desired, besides preventing us from enjoying happiness. Thus, we realize that the birds in the sky and the lilies of the field are not mentioned as models of inactivity or lack of foresightedness, but of joyous tranquility and unconcern.
If by the fact that this passage mentions that the birds in the sky do not sow nor reap nor store their grain, and that the lilies of the field neither toil nor spin, one draws the conclusion that men should not work, then a most serious mistake is being made. Jesus sent Peter to fish in order to pay the tax of the “di-drachma” and, on another occasion, urged the disciples on to the catch in order to have food. He did not set the birds in the sky as an example. Oil did not rain down upon the foolish virgins who did not set aside their stores. And of the servants who received the talents, the one who best imitated the lilies of the field in not toiling was the one who was reprimanded. From all this we realize that Jesus wants us to work now for today and for tomorrow and, if possible, for the years to come. But in so doing, he does not want us to forego sleep and worry ourselves sick. Rather, he wants us to look primarily for happiness (the kingdom of God) and he assures us that in seeking it, all else will come. If we look earnestly for happiness, we shall work in what we like best and we shall work with pleasure. With this work we shall obtain the fulfillment of our necessities as rational beings, to the degree of our capacity, our taste and rationality.
Jesus says, “Beware of coveting, because the lives of those who possess great amounts are not based on what they possess” (Lk. XII, 15). The desire of wealth is not covetousness because of the amount we seek, but because of the way in which it is desired. One can aspire to being a millionaire and work hard to be one. If the person who attempts this keeps his well-being, works happily and confidently and, while working, develops his rational being to the degree of his capacity and his way of being, and does not deprive himself of the joy of living, he cannot be called covetous. But if this person does not place his own happiness before all else, if he does not know how to use his reason and give preference to his personal values over material things, if he deceives himself by thinking that the mere posession of great amounts of goods brings happiness, then the desire for wealth becomes a source of bitterness, of deception, sorrow and pain. Covetousness consists in seeking wealth at the cost of happiness. The parable of the foolish rich man refers to this. (Lk. XII, 16–20) As in all of Jesus' preaching, the purpose of this parable is the good of the person to whom it is directed. All it means is that the rich man should not become uneasy nor take on too much work for the sake of an uncertain future. No reference is made to the poor. What is considered bad is that the rich man of the parable was not able to enjoy the fruit of his efforts, his deprivations and his ruminations.
And mark that by wealth, not a great abundance or quantity of goods is meant, but simply material things as such—few or many, precious or common. For a man of limited economic capacity, for example, a material thing of little value on the market might become a source of worry, uneasiness, and affliction. Avoiding the pitfalls of wealth applies to the poor as well as the rich. It is precisely the former to whom the literal sense of anxiety for food and clothing applies.
“Do not accumulate treasure on earth, where moth and rust will lay waste to it, and where thieves will pass through walls to steal it…because your heart is where your treasure is.” (Mt. VI, 19–21) This does not mean that we should not seek or possess material goods. What it means is that we should not make of them “a treasure”, nor place excessive value on them, nor make them the basis of our life. We should enjoy things while we have them, but we should not let their loss or lack cause us sorrow.
The best proof that Jesus praises the rational use of wealth—in any amount and at any price—and the best proof that he does not worry about the poor, nor entitle them to demand part of the wealth of the rich, is what happened at the anointment of Bethany: “A woman approached Jesus with an alabaster flask that contained an expensive ointment and poured it over his head, as he sat at table. Seeing this the disciples became indignant and said, ‘Why this waste? This ointment could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said, ‘Why do you trouble this woman? She has done well with me. The poor shall always be among you, but I shall not. I truly say to you that wherever my word shall be preached, there shall this act be known, in memory of her’.” (Mt. XXVI, 6–11 and 13) In the version of John, XII, 2–8, it is specified that the person who protested, saying that the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor, was none other than Judas Iscariot.
In the above passage, Jesus openly praises the gift of a mere luxury, and he praises it above the possibility of distributing what it would bring in money to the poor. What can better typify what luxury is than an expensive ointment—something completely superflous. It is true that we find concern for the poor when it is asked why the ointment was not sold and the money distributed among the poor. However, these words did not come from jesus, but from Judas. It is Judas who takes the stand to defend “social justice”, against Jesus. It is Judas who demands a better distribution of wealth. Perhaps the so-called Christian social doctrine should, with better reason, be known as the"Judasian social doctrine”.
That Jesus was in favor of luxury and a good life is also surmised from the way in which the gospel compares the kingdom of heaven to feasts and banquets, and from the many feasts he enjoyed—so much so that the Pharisees accused him of being “a glutton and a wine drinker.” (Mt. XI, 19) At the famous wedding of Canna, Jesus provided wine for the guests at a point where it was not necessary for them to have something to drink, but when they were already in their cups (inebriati) as described in the Vulgate edition of the Bible.
When Jesus gave answer to John's envoys, he said to them: “Go and tell John what you saw and heard—that the blind see, the crippled walk straight, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are risen and the poor…(What could we expect Jesus to say of the poor, that they are enriched? No, quite differently!)…receive good tidings"(Mt. XI, 4–5). The good news for the poor is that happiness is not based on wealth, that being poor is no obstacle to achieving happiness, and that the scarcity or lack of things—although it is a relative misfortune in itself—has the advantage of diminishing one's cares and worries.
That is why Jesus calls the poor “happy”. Both the original Greek text “Makarioi” and its Latin version “Beati” mean precisely “happy”, that is fortunate, blessed. But the listing of those “fortunately blessed” is not exhaustive. It is not pretended that only those on the list can be happy. It only refers to those who apparently and by common logic, can be considered to have reason to be unfortunate. The enumeration means that they too can be happy, if they know how to benefit intelligently from the circumstances, be guided by reason and attend to their highest personal interests.
As can be seen, Jesus did not worry about the poor. How could he really worry about them if he considered them fortunate, if he brought them the good news of the kingdom and if he considered wealth to be dangerous? How can the gospel be used as proof for the now fashionable theories of social justice, of the redistribution of wealth, the need of leveling off economic inequalities, the duty of the rich to give their money to the poor, etc.? The reason for these theories is that present Christians are unduly anxious about material things and they try to accomodate their uneasiness to Jesus' teachings, which do not contain the slightest worry about those worldly goods. Whereas Jesus said that the life of the rich man is not to be based on his wealth, the supporters of the so-called “Christian” social doctrine maintain that it is, since they go around anxiously demanding that the poor be made rich with material goods. While Jesus recommends not to worry about food or clothing, his alleged disciples are not only worried but obsessed. They demand that they and the rest of humanity be guaranteed not only food and clothing, but housing, education, entertainment, profit-sharing, and freedom from all kinds of risks such as sickness, old-age, unemployment, etc. as well.
Now, I believe we can better analyze the imprecations found in Luke, VI, 24–6: “Woe to you, the rich; you have received your consolation! Woe to you who are gratified, for you shall be hungry! Woe to you who now laugh, for you shall mourn and weep! Woe to you, when men praise you, because their fathers did the same with false prophets.”
I believe that this passage is not genuine and that it comes directly from the Essenes. It is sufficient to compare it with the text that precedes it (VI, 20–3), in order to realize that it is simply a reversal of what is said there. After referring to those who are poor and hungry, those who weep and are abused and those who are persecuted as blessed, the Evangelist turns to cursing the rich, those who are satiated, those who laugh and those who are praised. But this, as I pointed out before, implies not understanding that the list of the blessed does not pretend to be exhaustive; it only indicates that those mentioned also can be happy, if they know how to profit from circumstances. To present the matter, as Luke does in his double enumeration, would mean that it is good in itself to be poor and hungry, to weep, to be abused and persecuted, and that it is bad in itself to be rich, to be gratified, to laugh and be praised. Evidently, this is nonsense because it is sufficient to realize the gibberish into which we would fall. He says, “Woe to you who are gratified, for you shall be hungry”, but if being hungry is to be blessed, then why feel sorry for them or curse them? And again he says, “Woe to you who new laugh for you shall mourn and weep”.But by weeping they will be included among those of whom it is said, “Blessed are those who now weep for they shall laugh.”
It is not a valid answer to say that this refers to “the other life”, the life beyond the tomb. Supposing that we believe in that other life and that we believe that God will give out prizes and penalties, can we admit that He will punish those who laughed simply because they laughed, and reward those who wept simply because they wept?
Another reason for suspecting the authenticity of the passage we are considering is its similarity in style and doctrine to several texts in the Epistle of James, so clearly Essenic, and to the book of Enoch “Woe to you, the rich, for you have trusted in your riches, but you shall lose them, because you have not remembered the Most High in the days of your riches. You have committed blasphemy and unrighteousness, and have become ready for the day of slaughter, and the day of darkness and the day of the great judgment…Woe to you, the mighty, who with might have oppressed the righteous; for the day of your destruction is coming” (I Enoch, XCIV–XCVI). A certain similarity also exists with the following passage from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: “And they who have died in grief shall arise in joy, and they who have lived in poverty for the Lord's sake shall be made rich, and they who have been in want shall be gratified, and they who have been weak shall be made strong”. (Judah, XXV, 4)
The foregoing leads me to the conclusion that the imprecations of Luke were added by the Evangelist because of the Essenian influence which infected Christianity from its origin.
In all the teachings of Jesus wealth is not condemned, nor is poverty praised as such, nor are the rich obliged to give to the poor. In seeking the rational good of his listener Jesus denounces the harm done by covetousness, he points to the error of considering that the abundance of material things can, in itself, bring happiness and, therefore, calls our attention to the danger that wealth represents. He informs the poor that their condition does not prevent them from experiencing happiness and that, if they know how to take advantage of their freedom from care, they may easily enter the kingdom of heaven.
The above is illustrated in the parable of the guests at the banquet. (Lk., XIV, 16–21) Here, the kingdom of heaven—happiness—is represented by a banquet to which, in the first place, the rich are called, since they are of the same class and social condition as the host. It seems that the rich, primarily, are those who will know happiness. Their wealth serves as an instrument that, if handled well, can provide them with happiness. But if they do not know how to manage their riches, this same wealth can be an obstacle to their enjoyment of the banquet that is life. Those invited first—that is, the rich—could have enjoyed the banquet if they had wanted to, but they were very busy in their respective businesses and did not attend. On the other hand, the poor, blind and crippled of the streets, who did not have these obstacles, could enjoy the banquet. As can be seen, the happiness that many wealthy persons disdain, can be enjoyed by some of the poor who, because of this, can be called “fortunately blessed”.
From what we know of the ideas of Jesus through the gospels, there is no basis for a system of economic policy that pretends to establish coercively a distribution of wealth. Jesus did not occupy himself with economic or political matters and, consequently, the solutions given to questions in this field cannot be attributed to him.
If a man is convinced, however, of the philosophical ideas of Jesus about the supreme value of happiness, of the primacy of the individual and of a regime of reason and liberty, then, when he is confronted with problems of economic policy and wishes to be consistent in his thinking, he will be forced to follow the ideas of freedom in production and commerce which make up the system of capitalism or free enterprise.
All political systems are founded on certain moral principles. Jesus did not champion any political system, but from the moral principles he preached, nothing else can be derived but a free system; and capitalism is the only system that fits the rational and free nature of human beings.
In the little we know of the life of Jesus, and in what we know of his ideas, he acts and talks like a man with a capitalistic mentality.
The only time he has to pay any amount of money—the tribute of a di-drachma for the temple—he sends Peter off to fish, so that with the proceeds from fishing, he can pay for them both. He neither moves hand nor foot; he limits himself to supplying the idea, and it is Peter who does all the work; nevertheless, the product is divided in half. I see no reason why Communists and advocates of the Christian social doctrine do not consider him an exploiter, a profiteer.
In the parable of the foolish virgins, Jesus is decidedly on the side of the rich and not on the side of those who are “have-nots”. Economic inequality does not affect him, nor does he consider the distribution of oil as being unjust. He simply presents as examples “the selfish ones” who did not want to share with their companions.
Where the moral principles from which capitalism is deducted are best expressed in the words of Jesus is in the parable of the laborers (Mt.XX, 1–15)."The kingdom of God is something like the master of the house who goes out early one morning to look for laborers to work in his vineyard. He hires some at a “denarius” a day, and sends them to his vineyard. He goes out again after three hours and saw some others who were idle in the marketplace. He said to them, ‘Go to my vineyard and I will give you what is right.’ So, they went. He ventured forth again an hour before sunset and found others standing there, saying to them, ‘How is it that you are here all morning without working?’ They replied, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He answered, ‘Then, go to my vineyard. ‘When the afternoon came, the master called his steward to have him pay the laborers their wages, beginning with those who last came and working up to the first. Those who came near the sunset received a denarius and when those who first came also received a denarius, they started complaining to the master, saying, ‘Those who came last worked only an hour and you have given them the same amount as you have given us who have borne the weight of the day and the hot sun.’ And, he said to one of them, ‘Friend, I do you no wrong. Did you not agree to work for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give the same to the one who came last as to you. Am I not allowed to do what I please with my money? Is youreye bad because mine is good?’”
It would be difficult to express more briefly, more clearly and more strikingly, within a more vital, natural and human framework, the two basic principles of economic liberalism—freedom in contracting labor: “Friend, I do you no wrong. Did you not agree to work for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go”; and the absolute value of property: “Am I not allowed to do what I want with my money?”
Nevertheless, the same persons who profess to follow the ideas of Jesus have lent themselves to the task of erecting a tremendous structure called Christian social doctrine, which consists precisely in denying these very principles. Pope Paul VI says in his encyclical Populorum Progressio (58): “Prices which are freely formed on the market can bring unfair results. Thus, it is the fundamental principle of liberalism in the matter of trade that is in question.”
Indeed, it is the fundamental principle of liberalism that is now in litigation; but it is precisely this fundamental principle that is expressed in the parable we are considering. Those who support the Catholic, collectivist, laborist, social doctrine are in favor of the laborers who were hired first and claim a higher wage for having “borne the weight of the day and the hot sun.” It is of no importance to them that Jesus, through the words of the master, had already answered this matter in no uncertain terms: “Did you not agree to work for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go.” As can be seen, the norm for determining wages according to Jesus is what is agreed upon and not the amount of fatigue or perspiration experienced.
The parable clearly shows one of the deep psychological roots in the idea of “social justice"—envy! The laborers who first arrived were content with their salary until they saw that others were obtaining proportionally more than they were, that is, receiving the same amount for less work. Thus, we see that those who claim a “just distribution of wealth” for themselves or for others are only moved by a hidden desire to deprive those who have more than they do.
In transcribing the last sentence in the parable, I have changed it somewhat in order to reinstate its original meaning. Customarily, it reads, as follows: “Is your eye evil because I am good?” I think the wording I have given it is more natural, deeper, wider and closer to the question at hand. Directly it means, “Are you near-sighted because my sight is good?” And metaphorically speaking, “Are you lacking in something because I have a great deal?” This indicates to us through a very vital and expressive comparison that the wealth or intelligence or ability or good luck of some is not the cause of the poverty or foolishness or ineptitude or bad luck of others. And for this reason, inequalities in fortune, in aptitudes or in opportunities are not the fault of those who happen to have these assets in abundance.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the ideas of Jesus, stripped of misrepresentation and subsequent deformation, that is, correctly interpreted, contain a system of humanist and individualist ethics that leads man to the achievement of his supreme goal—happiness, on the basis of his own resources and guided by reason. Jesus did not advocate any political or economic system but from the moral principles that he preached, only one system can be derived, the one which goes hand in hand with a rational and free human nature, namely capitalism.