Squeezing the Camel Through the Eye of the Needle Pt.4

Some reflections on wealth and the Kingdom from Church Action for Tax Justice Chair Sue Richardson.

“it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25)

This is the fourth in a series of short reflections for the Advent season exploring some gospel texts about wealth, its creation and its use, our relationship with it and how it causes us to relate to others, as an invitation to some faith-based reflection on our times and our response to them. The intention is to test various understandings of the spirituality of wealth to resource our actions as Church-based organisations seeking the Kingdom of Heaven.

What do we see?

We see people in roles of public service expressing anxiety about their remuneration and declaring a shortage of resource to fund lifestyles and family choices.  The crisis of income is so immediate in some cases that networks and special relationships are used to gain extra payments as salary or as consultancy.  The possibility of inappropriate influence is so serious that measures are explored to restrict other employment whilst serving as a Member of Parliament.

Meanwhile we learn that the average salary in the UK is just under £26,000 per year.

Parliament has agreed an increase in what is referred to as the ‘Living Wage’, paid to over-23 year olds, to £9.50 per hour, but many employed in the ‘gig’ economy with insecure work complain that overall they receive less. 12% of the UK workforce are in low-paid insecure jobs.

More than two million people do not earn enough from their jobs to access sick pay or pension contributions from their employer. It is a different world for those who choose to supplement income with carefully chosen extra employment and for those who are forced to look for more than one low-paid or part-time job.

ECCR/CATJ is currently raising awareness of the growth in wealth for some in our communities even while the struggle with the Coronavirus has seen millions furloughed from work on reduced earnings or facing unemployment. Find out more about our Wealth Tax Pledge and how you can support it here.  

What do we believe?

Our frequent prayer petitions “our Father” to provide our “daily bread”, the essential we need to have life with security and hope. We also pray not to be led into temptation and, from across the Gospels, but especially in Luke, we read of Jesus’ insistence that an insidious form of temptation lies in the acquisition of wealth.

When we share a communion service everyone who approaches the table receives the same distribution of the bread that symbolises our material need as human beings and, at the same time, within the temporary community we form around that table, we are invited to reflect on how this act of receiving and sharing challenges every other part of our daily life.

We read: The encounter of Zacchaeus with Jesus      Luke 19:1-10

What strikes you first from this passage?

This is an incongruous encounter between two men of contrasting life and status.  Zacchaeus is described first by his role – a chief tax collector – which means he works for the occupying power, the Romans, in the most extractive way. He is described also as ‘wealthy’ and is using his power to oversee the tax demands made on the population by those contracted to him and to make sure that sufficient surplus is brought in to give him a large income.  He is distanced from his neighbours by his occupation, his alliances and his money.

Jesus is an itinerant teacher and healer with some local renown and an accompanying group of friends and supporters. His wider network supplies the needs of daily life as he travels. Ensconced in his tree, both separated from and yet above the townspeople, Zacchaeus wants to see privately and is nevertheless ‘seen’ by Jesus who announces he will be a guest that day in Zaccaeus’ home. Jesus breaks into his space.

Could Zacchaeus have had any idea of how this dinner engagement would work out? He welcomes Jesus gladly, perhaps he is even flattered by the teacher’s attention and anxious to demonstrate how richly he can provide for an unexpected guest.  We don’t overhear the table conversation, but something happens to transform the host’s understanding of the life he leads.

We do not witness Jesus judging Zacchaeus’ occupation nor hear him say a critical word.  He merely comes close, close enough to break bread, to establish ‘companionship’. Perhaps two sorts of life, two sorts of priority came into conversation around that table? Through an act of giving and receiving Zacchaeus was changed and saw a new way forward.

He would remain a public servant of sorts, for an oppressive empire, but repentance for old ways would take a material form, of recompense to those wronged, and of gratuity expressed to the most needy. He pledges to be different and act differently in the same situation and we are left to consider how his employers and his neighbours respond.  But Jesus is clear: this is how ‘sonship’ looks, family bonds are re-established, and, fundamentally, where salvation lies.

And Jesus said: “Today salvation has come to this house”.

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