I grant that Jesus didn’t include aid to the unemployed in his litany about the sheep on the right hand and goats on the left, as recorded in Matthew 25.
But, as a graduate school professor of mine once said about things Jesus reportedly didn’t say: “He should have.”
And credibly could have, we might add, because as far as we know Jesus himself didn’t have full-time or even part-time salaried employment, and the unemployed would surely have fit in with those he did cover in that sheep-and-goats story: the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned.
Just as you did or didn’t provide the needed assistance to the jobless, you did or didn’t do it to me, Jesus should have and could have said.
And I grant that Jesus didn’t include those out of work when he spoke in the synagogue and said: “The Spirit of God is upon me, who has anointed me to bring good new to those who are … poor, captive, blind and oppressed.”
But he should and could have.
Yes, OK, I grant that Jesus didn’t make the unemployed the one who was beaten up by the band of robbers in the parable about the Good Samaritan – the good neighbor.
But he should and could have – even more today, when the more than 14.6 million people out of work have been beaten up by that band of robbers who set the whole economy off reeling while piling up huge profits for themselves.
In telling that story about the beaters and the beaten, Jesus, as you will remember, was trying to explain the Great Commandment about loving God completely and the neighbor as oneself. And while the neighbor is defined, unmistakably, as the one who cares for the afflicted, Jesus was also making the point about how that care for others should not only be equivalent to caring for oneself but also that caring for others in need is a way of caring for oneself.
That is, it is in one’s self interest to care for those in need since Jesus is proclaiming, in this story and throughout the Gospels, a Kingdom of God or a Domain of the Divine or a Commonwealth of the Creator that is essentially defined by mutual care. The love God has for every one of God’s creatures and their love for God as well as the love and care that all of God’s creatures have for one another.
That’s the way it works in the Kingdom, Domain, Commonwealth of God. Caring for others is a way of caring for oneself because, in truth, we are inextricably interconnected.
But a whole lot of members of the United States Senate seem neither to be reading this stuff of Scripture nor understanding it as it may have been told to them. They are the senators who are holding up passage of legislation that would extend benefits to the unemployed until at least next November. They are the ones from the Upper Chamber who are willing to let the unemployment checks stop and let the unemployed fend for themselves.
Never mind the pain and suffering that will be caused for those unemployed persons and their families. Never mind the pain and suffering that will be caused for the retailers and businesses and service providers who have, up to this point, been able to make it because the unemployed have had money to spend on what they need. Never mind the tax revenues that will be lost to local and state governments for lack of sales by the unemployed or to the federal government in income tax. Never mind the blow to the recovery of a struggling economy, which will have consequences for virtually everyone except probably the wealthy.
It isn’t just these nay-saying senators, of course, who are opposing the extension of unemployment benefits and aren’t reading this stuff in Scripture. It’s also that part of the public, some of them supposedly followers of Jesus, who haven’t read their New Testaments lately and instead are listening to pundits who are sounding an alarm about the national debt and deficits but unwilling to consider cuts in defense spending instead of help for the unemployed.
Equally disconcerting is the absence of voices calling for support of the extension of unemployment benefits.
It makes one wonder: regarding all those things Jesus said, or should have said, or could have said, is anybody reading this stuff?
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.