With the shift of the Democratic party ever left and many people jumping on the socialism bandwagon, some who would like to reconcile their faith with their political ideology have begun making the claim that Jesus was a socialist. But is that true?
In fact, there are direct passages that would contradict the idea of Jesus being a socialist. One doesn’t have to read very deep into the New Testament to find them. In the book of Matthew, Jesus’s disciples are questioned by the Pharisees as to why he dines with sinners and tax collectors. His response? “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” In other words, tax collectors were among those he considered sick within the society. Since tax collectors are a core component of socialism, it’d be quite a stretch to say that Jesus somehow embraced or endorsed socialism.
Earlier in the book of Matthew, when preaching lessons to his followers, he says, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Here he is referencing tax collectors as an example of shameful people. Which draws an even larger point, that even beyond Jesus himself, tax collectors must have been considered by others to be some of the worst people of the day. If you go back before Jesus, to Moses and the ten commandments, to which Jesus clearly subscribed (he himself references them in several books,) one of God’s commandments is “thou shall not steal.” Taxation, however, is theft. When you take that which does not belong to you, against the will of who you took it from, you are stealing. If taxes were voluntary, they would not be theft, but involuntary taxation is theft. So it is not surprising that Jesus referred to tax collectors as “sick”?
To be fair, Jesus was not exactly a capitalist either. In fact, he was famously asked by a wealthy man what that man could do to go to heaven. Jesus told the man to follow the commandments. The man replied to Jesus that he had followed all the commandments, even since he was a child. At that point, Jesus said to him that he was lacking one thing, and that thing was that he should sell off all his possessions and give to the poor. The man is said to have walked away sad.
Trying to paint Jesus as endorsing a political system or economic system is probably a futile exercise. Clearly, Jesus was a religious leader (and savior to Christians), not a worldly figure who was concerned with monetary issues. If we were to point to a system today that is most compatible with Christianity, it would likely be capitalism simply because, as a system, it doesn’t require theft. Capitalism, therefore, does not break a commandment in its practice. Obviously though, in the US, we do have income taxes, but they aren’t a necessary component of capitalism. On the contrary, one could argue that we have already implemented socialism in this country via the income tax.
In order to follow the path of Jesus, we would need a system that was devoid of theft, in which people constantly took their excess and voluntarily gave it away to help the poor. As Christians, that is what we should aspire to do.