Christian charity is doubtless among the noblest, most beautiful things to have ever graced this fallen world of ours. As much as its critics hate to admit it, the fact is that the vast majority of the planet’s charitable organizations, and all of the most influential of such organizations, are inspired by the person of Christ: charity—love—is the greatest of commandments for the disciples of Jesus.
However, Jesus was clear that charity is not defined by material conditions. Those “in need” can and not infrequently are from all walks of life. If being alive for more than a handful of years isn’t enough to convince people of this, then maybe some reminders of the fact that Jesus befriended, and served, the wealthy, as well as the poor, the powerful, as well as the powerless, might do the trick. Christ, let us not forget, not only healed the servant of a Roman centurion; He commended the soldier—an agent of the Roman Empire, mind you—for having more faith than that of anyone that He had encountered up to that point in Israel.
It is crucial to grasp that this incident with the (relatively wealthy) Roman soldier was no fluke: in spite of the sense of His fellow Jews that they were living under oppressive foreign rule, and in spite of the fact that Christ Himself was eventually executed by Rome, He never once so much as critiqued the Roman government—while He tirelessly critiqued the children of Israel.
Jesus never condemned human slavery, and even told parables featuring slaves and slave masters, parables suggesting that slave masters had authority (even if qualified by God’s authority) over their slaves. He as well told a parable of an employer in which he clearly affirmed the employer’s right to pay his laborers just the wage that they agreed to be paid—regardless of whether he chose to pay other laborers differently, or unequally.
The point here isn’t that Jesus was an advocate for slavery, “capitalism,” or any other “ism.” The point is that He was not an advocate of any.
Jesus was concerned not with changing “super structures,” “systems,” “states,” and/or “economies.” He was concerned with changing people’s hearts. Perhaps He realized that focus on the former detracts from focus on the latter.
Pope Francis and people everywhere would be well served to realize this as well.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at email@example.com or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.