It is Autumn in New York City. The mood across the country can only be described as grim. America seems to be teetering on the brink, torn by angry voices and impassioned opinions. There are strikes, depressions, failing banks, long job lines, and an air of simmering violence. Amidst the sea of discontent, one man decides he can make a difference. He is compelled, even driven to change this city, this world. He starts a movement that would change the world. First it starts out small, a handful of people gathering at lunch time in a small room. The next week, he is delighted to find 20 people who want to gather and then 40 the third week. Weekly meetings soon became daily gatherings and within a few weeks, ten thousand men were gathering daily. Eventually the movement began spreading across the nation and spilling across American’s shores to other countries.
Reading that description one might think I am talking about present-day New York City, teeming with Occupy Wall Street protesters. They appear to be an unorganized lot with no clear message. One thing they seem to have in abundance are signs that read things like “Jesus was the 99%”, or “Obama is not a brown-skinned, anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare, you’re thinking of Jesus”. I am talking of New York City in 1857 and the man I am speaking of isn’t a protester pitching a tent in a park. He is Jeremiah Lanphier, a quiet and thoughtful businessman who, seeing the desperation of the faces of New Yorkers, turned to the Lord in prayer and as a result birthed a Great Awakening in America that affected as many as two million American lives in just a few years’ time.
Lanphier was certainly no occupier holding up a colorfully decorated sign. He was a man who looked at how he could make the situation better for his fellow man rather than waiting for someone to make it better for him. He took action. He prayed. Speaking of Jesus, there is much discussion about the idea that Jesus would be right in the thick of things down in Zucotti park. Progressive evangelist and religious left icon Jim Wallis has announced he will conduct a visitation to the occupiers presumably to bestow his blessing and, he doubtless hopes, to receive their homage. While he admits to not fully understanding the protest, Wallis said the following:
When they stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus.
When they stand with the hungry, they stand with Jesus.
When they stand for those without a job or a home, they stand with Jesus.
When they are peaceful, nonviolent, and love their neighbors (even the ones they don’t agree with and who don’t agree with them), they are walking as Jesus walked.
When they talk about holding banks and corporations accountable, they sound like Jesus and the biblical prophets before him who all spoke about holding the wealthy and powerful accountable.
While I do agree with the protesters, that Jesus was a protester out to occupy, I disagree with the idea that he would be there occupying Wall Street. What these misguided religious zealots conveniently fail to note is that nowhere in the New Testament or the other books of the Bible do Jesus Christ, His apostles, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Moses or the Hebrew prophets command the government to take money from its citizens and transfer it to poor people. In fact, the Bible says just the opposite. God presents us with three general ways in the Bible to take care of the poor and needy: 1) through the family; 2) through the church; and 3) through individual charity. The applicable passages for these three ways are Deuteronomy 14:28, 29, Numbers 18:24, Matthew 6:1-4 and 1 Timothy 5:3-16.
Now, the first two ways are pretty clear. People’s first obligation is to the needy, poor, widowed and orphaned in their own families. Only after they do this do they have any obligation to help the needy, poor, widowed and orphaned through their local church organization. God established the pattern for this kind of church giving in Numbers 18:24 and Deuteronomy 14:28, 29. It was only every third year that all the giving was set aside to help the needy, poor, widowed and orphaned. Even then, the money was not given just to anyone who showed up. Those able to work but don’t do not qualify for help. Also, those who have families to take care of them don’t qualify, nor do widows under age 60 qualify, according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, talks about the third way in Matthew 6. He tells His listeners that they should give individual charity. He also says they should give such charity secretly: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
In other words, Jesus is not a socialist. Nor is He an occupier in the sense that Willis and the crowds of disaffected, distracted protesters incorrectly portray him to be by insisting He would be part of their movement. In fact, in none of the Bible passages just cited, nor in any others I know of, does Jesus, God or even Moses cite the government as the means by which the poor, needy, widowed and orphaned are housed, clothed and fed.
On that note, it is interesting to recall that the 10th Commandment in Exodus 20:17 actually protects private property by commanding people not to covet their neighbor’s house or belongings. That commands applies to the average citizen as well as the elected official, the judge and all other government officials. Furthermore, the Bible condemns laziness and praises hard work. Proverbs 10:4 says, “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” Proverbs 14:23 says, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Finally, it is interesting to note that, in Mark 7:20-23, Christ declares that both greed and envy are evil. Thus, Jesus Christ condemns both the greed of the rich man as well as the greed of the poor man, and the envy of the poor man as well as the envy of the rich man. Thus, God condemns the politics of envy of the left, and he extols the virtues of hard work and capitalism, not just the value of charity.
Another interesting point is that Jesus never went anywhere uninvited. Even when he rebuked the money-changers in the Temple, he did not approach the institution as an antagonist, demanding entry on his own terms. He entered the Temple in obedience to the Father, as a Jew going to worship: exercising the privilege of a Jew under the commandments of God and the system of worship and priestly authority God had instituted. At no time did Jesus enter the premises of any person or institution on any but an orderly pretext.The intention of the Occupy Wall Street protesters\to occupy the premises of others and challenge society’s institutions\has been clarified during the week of October 10. Informed by the New York authorities that they would have to vacate Zucotti Park while it was being cleaned, the protesters insisted that their activities constitute an occupation, mounted on their terms. They are not there at the sufferance of the mayor or the police.
That’s something Jesus would not do. He didn’t have to defy the authorities in order to triumph. In fact, He obeyed their decrees all the way to the cross, rebuking Peter for showing resistance. The resurrected Jesus doesn’t even “occupy” our hearts, the territory he was sent to claim. He dwells there only at our invitation. It is missing the point of Jesus to invoke him in a protest about the Marxist concept of “economic justice.” That self-referential human concept is about what others have and what others have done. On the surface, socialism appears compassionate or even heroic. Those rightfully concerned with injustice may think that Marxist redistribution is a valid remedy to poverty, taking from the rich to give to the poor. But, Matthew (the tax collector), Robin Hood (man in tights), and Joseph Stalin (brutal dictator) were simply thieves. The difference is that Matthew (the Christ-follower) repented.The life of Jesus, who never sought to change a single material fact of the society he encountered on earth, is about the relationship of each one of us with the Father. If we seek first the kingdom of God, Jesus said, all the rest will be given to us as well (Mt. 6:33).
Lanphier understood that in the America of 1857. Jeremiah Lanphier’s willing heart made a difference. Within six months of starting his lunchtime meetings, ten thousand businessmen were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts were added to the American churches. Undoubtedly the greatest revival in New York’s colorful history was sweeping the city, and it was of such an order to make the whole nation curious. There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray. If his heart was so useful to Jesus, then perhaps any one of our hearts could be also. So let’s hope that when God looks down, he sees us standing willing and ready, not waiting around for a handout or to take something that doesn’t rightfully belong to us.
Jesus was an occupier and a protester , but not against the temporal authorities of the day or the distribution of goods in society. His protest was against the unrepentant human heart. As long as we want to focus on how the schemes of others have gone awry, we are operating in our own power and in our own names. If we truly want to be doing what Jesus would do, we must seek our entitlements from the right source, and cease thinking in terms of “occupation” altogether. Jesus did not say nothing would change. His message is that we change, one by one: not through occupation but by invitation.