What does God think about inequality?

pope francis - such an economy killsThe Bible certainly recognises disparities of wealth and status. The riches of patriarchs and kings are often taken as a sign of divine blessing and the existence of slaves taken for granted. But, as the writers of Genesis tell us, because all people are made in the image of God they should all enjoy the gifts of God’s creation.

Many biblical writers reserve their sharpest criticism for unjust rulers, for anyone who exploits the poor. The prophets Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah all envisage a time when everyone will enjoy the necessities of life and call rulers to see that everyone is able to meet their basic needs.

The Jubilee laws in Leviticus are another way of achieving this. They stipulate that land cannot be sold in perpetuity. Those who buy up the lands of the poor cannot retain them permanently. While these laws did not envisage an egalitarian society they provided a redistributive mechanism that helped overcome inequality.

The New Testament is also a powerful advocate for equality. Mary, the mother of Jesus, spoke of God filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. Jesus challenged people to sell their possessions and give to the poor. He proclaimed the year of Jubilee and taught that, in the kingdom, the poor are raised up and the rich brought down.

Following this teaching the early Jerusalem church shared their goods to ensure everyone’s basic needs were met. Equality within and between churches was also important for Paul. Using the metaphor of the body he insists in I Corinthians that, in the fellowship of Christ, social status has no importance. And he charged the Corinthian church to share their goods with a poorer fellowship (II Cor. 8.13–14).

The Lord’s Supper or Mass itself speaks of our equality before God. It anticipates the heavenly banquet when all are equal and remembers the one who ate with social outcasts and taught that, while in society people pull rank on one another, ‘it shall not be so among you’ (Mark 10.43–44).

The Bible affirms the fundamental equality of all people before God and the responsibility of those with wealth to ensure all members of the community enjoy all the necessities of life.

For the Bible’s writers the whole point of economic arrangements is to build up and sustain communities, to protect the most vulnerable and ensure they can participate as fully as everybody else.