Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?

Young protester at the Occupy Wall Street prot...
Image by Caroline Schiff Photography via Flickr

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests occupy a lot of news headlines.  Society appears to be split on the morality of the movement.  Is it a protest to give a voice to the little guy or is it a leftist, socialist power grab?  Is it a fight against corporate greed or a fight for larger government control?  One question that keeps popping up is, “What would Jesus think of Occupy Wall Street?”  There are several articles that ponder that question.  Personally, I think many people are just playing the “Jesus card” to drum up support from religious groups by showing their cause has God’s “seal of approval.”  But let’s suppose that this question was asked in all seriousness.  What would Jesus say about the Wall Street protests?

Trying to play the “Jesus card” to support political views is as old as Jesus Himself.  The first people to ask, “What would Jesus do?” were the pharisees and they had the privilege of asking Jesus directly.  But much like our modern day politicians and special interest groups, the pharisees were not looking to learn from what Jesus had to say but merely wanted something they could twist around to suit their already-established views.  They played the original “gotcha politics.”  In the Gospel of Matthew, the pharisees tried to trap Jesus on the topic of taxes (some things never change).  They asked:

Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”  Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin that pays the census tax.”  Then they handed him the Roman coin.  He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”  They replied, “Caesar’s.”  At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away.  (Matthew 22:17-22)

In exchanges like this throughout the Bible, Jesus made it quite clear He did not come into this world to settle age-old political and social questions.  As much as the Jews wanted their Messiah to be a political and social leader, Jesus’ teachings and goals transcended people’s squabbles about government and finances.  His goal was to show people the true path to eternal happiness, not to reform Jewish law or fight the Romans.  That path resides in individuals following Jesus’ teachings and making an effort to live in God’s grace.  The laws will always be imperfect and cannot cover the complete moral spectrum because they are made by humans who are inherently imperfect.  We will never achieve perfection through the law alone.  Jesus knew that and that is why He focused on showing how we, as individuals, can find true happiness with Him in Heaven.  In other words, Jesus taught that salvation is not gained by trying to perfect our laws, rather it is gained in trying to perfect our souls.

the Gospel of Matthew
Image by humberpike via Flickr

There are many people in this world who think we can legislate our way into a perfect world.  If we can just enforce the right set of rules then everyone will have just the right amount of happiness.  Would Jesus be in favor of this type of legislative chemistry?  Again, look at the Bible and all the Jewish laws Jesus and His disciples broke.  He healed people (aka worked) on the Sabbath, did not fast, and did not wash His hands before eating.  Jesus did this to point out the incompleteness of the law.  He wanted to show people that it was far more important to act out of a love for God than just blindly following rules.  Jesus came to teach us to understand what is good and what is wrong and choose to do good on our own free will instead of coerced by the fear of breaking laws we don’t understand.

I think Jesus would be saddened by today’s world that tries to legislate morality blindly instead of teaching and instilling a sense of morality in people’s hearts.  To put it another way, why do we need rallies and protests demanding legislation to prevent people from lying, stealing, and cheating?  Why don’t people understand that lying and stealing are wrong and naturally try their best to avoid such behaviors?  Unfortunately, we live in a world where something is wrong because there is a law against it, instead of a world where we have laws because we know some behaviors are inherently wrong.

So imagine if Jesus was here in this world in human form today.  Like the pharisees in the Bible, people would ask Him about his views on Occupy Wall Street, Obama Care, illegal immigration, and any number of social issues.  Do you think His answers would be any different from the ones He gave nearly 2000 years ago?  My guess is that many people would walk away disappointed because Jesus probably wouldn’t weigh in on these questions or provide answers that would make great sound bites on the evening news.  Jesus would probably say that in the grand scheme of things, we don’t go to Heaven because we pass good laws.  We go to Heaven because we strive to love Jesus by being good people and avoiding evil.

That brings us to the rosary, particularly The Nativity in the Third Joyful Mystery.  Jesus came into this world in the humblest way possible.  He was not born in a royal court nor did He grow up to be a worldly leader as many thought He would.  From His birth, Jesus showed that His ways were not the world’s ways.  When we pray the Third Joyful Mystery we must remember to accept Jesus and His message for what it is and not what we want it to be.  We must remember to not act like the pharisees and try to twist Jesus’ teachings to suit our wants and desires.  We pray for Jesus’ guidance to live according to His will.  We pray that we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in making just and moral laws but we don’t look to the law alone to find true happiness.

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