Saturday, January 12, 2013

Met. Georges Khodr on Marxism and Christianity

Arabic original here.

The Poor

In the Gospel of Matthew it says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," meaning, according to the Fathers, the humble. Scholars of biblical interpretation agree that this verse is a lessening of the sharpness that appears in Luke, "Blessed are you who are poor," (Luke 6:20). The interpreters say that this form is older, meaning that it is what the Teacher said. Whatever the case may be in terms of interpretation, it is clear that the needy have a special place with Jesus of Nazareth, who says, "the poor have good news brought to them" (Matthew 11:5).

It is as though the one who laid out the text intended that the Gospel is for them, or that they are the ones who will receive it because they are the ones who seek the kingdom of heaven. It is as though it also says that the rich have their possessions because they have taken their livelihood as their place of rest and happiness. Money is the center of their emotions and they rely on it. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, wealth is synonymous with enjoyment and merriment. It is the extent of rest and it defines and comprises its possessor.

But what is poverty? Is it not being reduced to a low standard of living within a specific society? But what is low? There is a relatively new term, the "poverty threshold", at which a person barely has the resources to avoid dying from hunger or at which he is unable to provide his family with food, clothing, shelter, and education.

This situation creates a reality in which he belongs to a social group that is dominated by the powerful and is marginalized and not permitted to be a partner in production and effective political life. The world comes to be composed through the classification of all people into the rich and the poor.

Karl Marx came to work for what he considered to be justice and reasonable fairness. For this reason, he called for the abolition of classes, as European society was characterized by sharp class divisions. He did not dream of people having absolute economic and social equality, but he desired rational coexistence in which there is no humiliation on account of obscene differences in standards of living.

It appears that the Marxist call did not succeed in its Leninist realization. It is clear that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Communist romanticism has disappeared for the millions that it nourished, be they workers or intellectuals. However, the aspiration for rational justice remains alive for many.

It is clear to observers that Christianity is not based on an economic system and does not call for a system. If socialism condemns the individual possession of the means of production and exchange and rejects the lack of social equality, Jesus of Nazareth does not put Himself in this context, since it is a context of social organization and Christianity is a call for the sake of the poor or this call is found within it. However, it is not a system to be realized through revolution or through social reform without revolution, as in the Scandanavian countries.

The concern for revolution is outside Christianity, which is a call. This is what Jesus of Nazareth wanted, since He did not want to overpower anyone or to impose a system by force. This leads us to understand that Apostolic Christianity was not attached to a state and was not separate from a state. At the time of its appearance, its followers were from the Roman Empire and it was not possible to establish state structures apart from the Empire, since the Nazarene was content to demonstrate that His kingdom is the kingdom of God in people's hearts.

He did not conquer countries forcibly or peacefully. In His time, this was left to the Roman Empire. After His death, in the early decades of the Church, the spread of His kingdom was not in principle attached to politics. He wanted to work through His Spirit and His Gospel, while the kingdoms of the world are left to the vicissitudes of time. We, His followers, are not of them even if we are in them. Christ's kingdom is the heart.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not portray the rich as being heartless. However, it teaches that wealth is a danger for people. The Nazarene warns of the spiritual dangers of putting yourself in the service of any created or man-made thing. For this reason He says, "You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). There is worship of the one and only God. Worship ('ibada) and servitude ('ubudiyya) are linguistically the same. It is not because God wanted you to be His slave, since He said, "you are My son." However, according to the teaching of one of our spiritual greats, you subjugate yourself to God through love.

If through love you become God's slave, beware of making another lord for yourself.

There is no doubt that money and everything you acquire draws you into terrifying captivity. At that point, you no longer have the freedom with which to worship God. You submit yourself to it alone. This is the condition of love, and so there can be no other beloved. Thus there is no place left in the heart for money and no human servitude. To love humans according to the words of the Nazarene, "Love your neighbor as yourself," is something else. It is giving until the end, until death. This is in total conflict with love of possessions and the like.

Are the rich a group condemned by Christ? In reality, the Nazarene spoke of a group of rich people who loved their wealth, paid no attention to the existence of the poor, had no compassion for them, and cut themselves off from them. Jesus of Nazareth was concerned with us being one society with all humans, not divided by social class, insofar as we understand that we are entrusted with God's property.

Our wealth is not our own. We only manage it for our benefit and for the benefit of people. Christianity does not legislate about the acquisition and distribution of wealth. It says: the other is your brother; treat him with what you have as your brother.

If you act in this way, there will not remain any rift between you and him. You will not revel in luxury and sumptuousness. Instead you will act mercifully, not allowing your neighbor to come near to death from starvation or something like it, because he has become your own flesh and blood. What you have acquired by inheritance or work will be spent on those who need it and you will look out for their needs and serve them as though they were Christ.

Christianity commands you to give a portion of your wealth to those around you. It causes your heart to feel that it possesses nothing on this earth. Then you will arrive at the point where you do not believe in private property, but rather in sharing in common.

Sharing in common means that you are not able to say "I alone." Instead you say, "You and I," meaning that you really say "we." Translating this into our lived reality means that we love the group among whom you live and that is within you.

Differences will remain. "The poor will always be with you but I will not always be with you." This does not mean that Jesus accepts the existence of hungry people. He wants us to deal with them in the social situation by establishing justice, and above justice love.

Jesus did not put good things off until later. "Today you have heard His voice. Let not your hearts be hardened."

Love is the kingdom of God.

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