Spirit Sightings

November 2, 2014: Economic Hypocrisy

From Paul Turley

When both The Economist magazine and the United States Federal Reserve start talking about inequality you can be sure that the issue is firmly on the front page.

At least once a month during the last year, The Economist has featured an article on the issue of rising inequality in western economics.

Just last week, United States Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen, in one of her first major speeches since taking on the role, addressed a conference on inequality in the U.S., in Boston.

Inequality in income between the richest and the poorest is growing. The fabled 1% now see their incomes and their share of wealth in stratospheric figures, while those at the bottom end of the income pool have stagnant or falling incomes.

“By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years,” Yellen said in her Boston speech.

And now it’s not just people who study these figures who are worried. Nor is it just those who are reading Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the biggest selling economics book in decades. According to new studies by the Pew Research Centre, Americans and Europeans both rank inequality as a greater threat than pollution and the environment, religious and ethnic hatred, and nuclear weapons.

Surely it is inequality that is at the heart of our text from Matthew’s gospel this week. Leaders who say one thing about how life should be led and then lead their own lives in a totally different way come in for Jesus’ intense criticism.

Leaders in our communities who call for people to get off benefits and to work hard but who, at the same time, reduce the funding to support services for the unemployed and increase the red tape and taxation burden on small business who might be able to offer employment are, in Jesus’ understanding, hypocrites. Those who insist on tax breaks for the rich and for corporations while loading tax onto the poor and the middle class are those who would be condemned by Jesus.

Explore… Matthew 23:1–12

  • In your view, who today “sits on Moses’ seat”?
  • How would you translate Jesus’ words about calling no one father or rabbi, for your church context?
  • Are there ways in which you can see the “greatest among you” being servants in your church and culture?

Prayer links…

God, in our hearts we know that if we live well while another starves, we do not truly live well. We know that if we ignore the inequalities of wealth, opportunity, and safety in our world, none of us will ever truly live in peace and harmony. Give us courage to face the truth and to change our world. Amen.

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