They claim that God desires that charity be dispensed through the Church and through private means.
If that is true, then we must surely admit, that after more than 2,000 years, our failure to obey has been immense and worldwide.
Struggling to understand this interpretation, I have thought deeply and reflected on my study of scripture over the years. I alas, find no such directive.
Israel, looked at historically, has struggled, at least throughout the pre-Christian times, and arguably for all time, with whether it would be a unified nation like its neighbors. It’s time as such, was brief, during the time of David and Solomon and a few other kings. But then, the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel again split, one to return to the Tribal Confederacy model, the other, Judah retained monarchy.
Much of Israel’s (I here use the term to include both North and South) troubles centered around how it failed to follow Yahweh when it tried to be a “player” in the Mid-East, as opposed to being a “light unto the nations.” Conceivably being the latter meant setting a standard of compassion and right behavior that would set them apart as God’s chosen.
Very little in Israelite history can be looked at as individual. The community was always the central fact of life. Torah, loosely translated as “the Law” was the standard of behavior. The covenantal life was what imputed righteousness, even though the individual failed often. As a people Israel was adjudged either faithful or not, either obedient or not.
The Law (the federal government as it were) directed that the widow and orphan, the alien, were to be cared for. Surely individual were expected to do so as well, but again, they were part of the community of Israel, never segregated as individuals. Surely part of the offering to the Temple was used to support the poor, those without family, or those marginalized by purity issues.
In fact, much of the calamitous events that befell Israel, occurred because of a failure to care for the poor. Read any of the classic prophets, from Jeremiah to Isaiah, to Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, virtually all reflect on the failure of the people as corporate entity to deal in compassion with the less fortunate.
to leave the cravings of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. The villainies of villains are evil; they devise wicked devises to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right. (Is 32:6-7)
The unrelenting call of the prophets was accusatory. Israel had failed to faithfully follow Yahweh, and she had failed to care for her own.
Turning to the New Testament, I search the gospels for evidence that Jesus called for private charity and decried anything having to do with corporate care. And again, I can find none. Surely Jesus would have spoken against the Roman practice of providing food for its poor? No. He said not a word.
In fact, Jesus made quite clear that the marginalized, the poor, the sick, the otherwise impure who were kept out of the community, should be embraced. He brought them back in. He in fact chastised the rich who neglected the poor in their greed and desire to be praised for their piety.
There is nothing that would suggest that Jesus meant individuals. He was condemning the rich in general, much as we today condemn the accumulation of outrageous wealth in the hands of individuals. “Go and sell all you own and come follow me” is an admonition to beware the love of things when people are starving.
If we as Christians want to turn the hearts and minds of others to empathy and compassion for each other, is it wrong to start with laws that require us to care for each other through taxation? When this becomes the norm, it becomes the norm in the mind as well. It is good and right that we, each of us, pay from our excess so that everyone can live with dignity.
For all those who were critical of social security and medicare, and still are, it has become an accepted fact of life, the least we can do. And oddly, those that condemn such practices as “socialism” dip their hands all too freely into the government coffers when they reach retirement. For it has become a “right,” one everyone partakes of.
I am deeply saddened when people turn to Paul who indicated that those in the community would not work should not be fed. “See,” they say, “Paul was clear that the community should not support the lazy.” But this is such a horridly wrong interpretation.
Paul was steeped in the erroneous belief that the end was near. Jesus was expected to return within his lifetime. Some, in his communities, believing this, felt it unnecessary to work any more, they could live off the rich among them for the short time left. Paul rightfully admonished such silliness. After all, there was no paucity of real poverty in that region, and everywhere Paul calls for the care of the widow and orphan.
In the end, we are left, I think with the usual problem. We want to give ourselves and ours more, and we conveniently accept the “interpretation” of those who tell us that the bible doesn’t support corporate giving through political entities. It is but another case of reading scripture selectively and without proper exegesis.
It’s interpretation for personal convenience.
Look at Matthew 25. Look at Luke 10. These are more than claims for individuals to care for others. They are teaching us to radically rethink who is our brother, our sister, our family, those whom we care for without thinking. They call us to embrace the world as our family. There is nothing within them that claim that this should be done only through private donation.