EVERY Christmas season, Christians tell of the poor baby Jesus who was born in a despicable manger in an animal pen because he could not find a room in an inn. However, Pastor C Thomas Anderson, senior pastor of the Living Word Bible Church in Mesa, Arizona, United States (USA), preaches another version of Christmas, namely that (baby) Jesus is not really poor at all.
Anderson said Jesus could not have been poor because he received lucrative gifts, such as gold, frankincense, and incense, at birth. Jesus must be a rich man because the Roman soldiers who crucified him even raffled to get his robe which would have been expensive.
Even Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, according to him, lived and traveled in style. “Maria and Joseph (as if) used a Cadillac to get to Bethlehem because the best means of transportation at their time was a donkey,” said Anderson. “Poor people, if they have donkeys, will kill and eat their donkeys. Only the rich use donkeys as a means of transportation.”
According to the Bible, Mary, who was pregnant, rode on a donkey while traveling from Nazarett, where Mary and Joseph lived, to Bethlehem to follow the mentality. Many Christians see Jesus as a poor man, the traveling preacher who “had no place to lay his head.”
CNN, last weekend, reported that when most Christians around the world this year celebrated the birth of Jesus (with a poor Jesus image), another group of Christians asserted that at the beginning of his life Jesus did not come from a simple family.
They say, Jesus was never poor, and so should his followers. Their claim is based on a doctrine known as the prosperity gospel (good news of), which states that God rewards believers with financial prosperity and spiritual grace.
Controversial? The prosperity gospel has drawn much criticism. However, popular evengelist preachers on US television, such as Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, and today, Creflo Dollar, have built large congregations and global audiences by equating piety with prosperity.
The prosperity gospel, however, contradicts the traditional image of Jesus as a poor man. According to Pastor Tom Brown, senior pastor of Word of Life Church in El Paso, Texas, this is due to the traditional misrepresentation of Jesus as poor. “I believe He is the richest man on earth because He has God as the source.”
The proof, according to him, is scattered throughout the New Testament Gospels. For example, the Gospel of John Chapter 12 says, Jesus had a treasurer, or a “bag keeper.” “The last time I checked, the poor didn’t have a treasurer to look after their money,” said Brown, author of Satan, The Devil and Spiritual Warfare.
Debates over Jesus’ economic status may seem implausible to some. Does it matter whether Jesus was rich or poor? For people like Luke Timothy Johnson, a great New Testament teacher and scholar, that mattered.
He stated that the rich Jesus was a historical turn and a threat to the heart of Christian teaching: God’s identification with the poor. “If Jesus reveals God, then there is something powerful about a God who appears and works among the poor,” said Johnson, a New Testament professor at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
“The Jesus lifestyle is not a lifestyle in an exclusive community or a corporation,” said Johnson, a former Benedictine monk. “You don’t have to go through a security fence just to get to Jesus. People touched him. He stretched out His hand and touched the children. His accessibility is one of the most powerful messages in Christianity. In Jesus, God is with us, and the majority of us are poor. “
Several prosperity gospel preachers draw different conclusions from the same gospel text. Tom Brown, pastor of Word of Life Church, El Paso, USA, said he didn’t say Jesus was rich because he wanted to give people a reason to live self-indulgent lives.
Brown wanted people to understand that Jesus used material and spiritual wealth to help others, and so should his followers do. Brown said, Jesus’ own words proved that He was not a poor man. “Jesus said that there will always be poor people around you, but I won’t be with you forever,” Brown said.
“Jesus did not put himself in the ranks of the poor …” “I believe He is the richest man on earth because God is the source,” Brown added. Some pastors argue, Jesus’ wealth is very clear in the Gospels, even in the part of his crucifixion.
The New Testament Gospels say some Roman soldiers raffled Jesus’ robe while he hung from the cross. According to C Thomas Anderson of Living Word Bible Church, they wouldn’t raffle Jesus’ clothes if they weren’t expensive. “I didn’t know anyone, not even Pamela Anderson, to the point of drawing out the clothes she was wearing,” Anderson said. “It must be a nice item he’s wearing.” Anderson said Jesus could not have had disciples or many followers if He was poor.
He couldn’t possibly earn their respect. “The poor will follow the rich, the rich will follow the rich, but the rich never follow the poor,” said Anderson. Bend the gospel for personal gain? Luke Timothy Johnson, a professor at Emory’s New Testament University, called Anderson’s opinion completely illogical. “So Martin Luther King must have been a millionaire,” he said. “The crowd followed Siddhartha Buddha and he was a poor man.
For God’s sake, the common people followed Mahatma Gandhi, and Gandhi wore a loincloth. “” The idea that Jesus was rich because the soldiers raffled for His robe when He was crucified also makes no sense historically, “said Johnson, author of Among the Gentiles. : Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity). “
“The crucifixion was a form of execution of slaves and rebels,” Johnson added. “It’s not an execution for the rich.” A professor of religion at Baylor University who is a specialist in the study of poverty in Greco-Roman times also said it was impossible for Jesus to be judged as a rich man. Bruce W Longenecker said, life in the time of Jesus was brutal. About 90 percent of the population live in poverty. A famine or a bad harvest can destroy a family. There is no middle class.
“In those days, you were either relatively poor or very rich, there were very few in between,” says Longenecker, author of Engaging Economics: New Testament Scenarios and Early Christian Reception. “The Gospels of the New Testament are full of parables that criticize Jesus for the rich and praise the poor,” Longenecker said.
In chapter six of Luke’s gospel, Longeneker says, Jesus condemns the rich. “The only way you can classify Jesus as rich is to defend perverted interpretations and be completely historically naive,” stressed Longenecker. Anderson, the Arizona pastor, doesn’t accept that opinion.
He said the church had been severely damaged by the teaching that Jesus was poor. According to him, God wants his followers to be rich, not for personal gain, but to help others in need and spread the gospel. When he first preached at his church that Jesus was not poor, Anderson said he “worried some people.”
Today, he said, his church has 9,000 congregations and a global ministry. “It’s heartbreaking to say that Jesus struggled alone in the dust and mud,” said Anderson. “That doesn’t make sense. He’s still a rich man.”
Source : kompas