Metropolitan Ieronymos of Larisa and Tyrnavos
It’s a common phenomenon all over the world that people try, by any means they can, to increase their share of wealth. Some are moved by a sense of justice, others are motivated by their own greed, some want to create equal social conditions, others struggle against those whom they deem to be ‘privileged’, while yet others want to manipulate the masses in order to exploit them later for their own purposes. These latter talk about ‘the justice of the struggle’, they stir up people’s feelings, clash with each other in an attempt to acquire and protect economic rights and perks, rarely for everyone, but usually for those defined as ‘one of us’, ‘ours’, ‘fighters’, ‘useful’ and so on.
It is, of course, a fact that the unequal distribution of wealth- either on the inter-governmental or social level- is the prevailing, harsh reality, which fuels many of the tensions which set in motion violence, barbarity, human crises and, particularly, callousness of the heart, nihilist beliefs and the further re-creation of inequality and injustice. But an equally irrefutable historical conclusion is that the perpetual cycle of concealed or open, ‘legitimate’ and illegitimate violence thus caused, isn’t brought to an end through ever more and greater struggles and confrontations. Rather, they actually feed this cycle. Nor is it stopped, much less abolished, through self-seeking compromises, rational guarantees and suspicion directed towards everyone else. The result is that, in the modern world, before attempting to slay any dragon of economic exploitation, those who do so have already lined their own nest, so that the process is no more than a swap.
How is our wage really increased?
In the Gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Luke, without entering into any kind of economic analysis Christ hints that we will have a hefty ‘wage’. In the passage quoted, no mention is made of ‘in heaven’ as is usually the case and which is often quoted by some with a large dose of sarcasm. Elsewhere the phrase ‘great is your reward in heaven’ (Luke 6, 23) does exist, within the context of the Beatitudes, in relation to the patience of the disciples in the face of human wickedness and malice. Here, though, the mention of ‘wage’ has no connection with heaven, either implicitly or indirectly. The Lord is talking about everyday human routine: life as part and parcel of this, people as protagonists in a particular set of historical circumstances. So when Christ talks about ‘wage’ here, He’s not referring to some future reimbursement or gift: He’s hinting at something which applies to earth, though it also endures into eternity.
How does Christ advise us to increase our wage? By doing away with the logic of ‘payback’ and starting a competition as to who will give the most in terms of care and attention. He asks for the adoption of a practice opposite to many of the theories of modern economic science. At the same time, it’s one of the few occasions when He uses the imperative in His speech, in an effort to emphasize the absolute necessity of implementing what He’s saying, not because He’s yet another autocrat, but because every time when what He’s saying has been ignored, it’s been humankind that suffered.
What precisely does He recommend? ‘Do to others what you’d like them to do to you. Love them first, outdo them in assistance, take care of them, so that they feel loved. Don’t give in to the logic of repayment. If you love only those who show that they love you, where’s the benefit? If you do good to those who’ve helped you out, again, where’s the benefit? And if you lend only to those you hope will return it to you, again, where’s the benefit? But you’re Christians, who bear My name as your identification, so love your enemies, do good to everybody, without exception or distinction, and lend without bringing anyone into despair’. This is the only way to ensure a really great reward, and you’ll be children of God, since you’ll be like Him in terms of benefaction and benefit.
A lot of people have said over the centuries that this doesn’t work. Because of them, Christianity has been condemned as utopianism. But whenever it’s been applied, historically, as well as a spiritual flowering there’s also been economic prosperity, a genuine redistribution of wealth within society and a welfare system capable of support and of tackling any difficulty. This demonstrates that material wealth isn’t responsible for cultural and spiritual well-being in general, but rather the opposite: that the moral edicts and a conscious spiritual life produce incalculable results, even in the economic field.
How does the Christian view of everyday life, even economics, differ from other theories? In many ways, but mainly how other people are treated. They aren’t defined as enemies, opponents or adversaries, but as kin, fellow-humans, members of the same body. This is because, through His teaching, Christ basically made us understand a fundamental point: there aren’t any enemies. With our bad thoughts and fears we tend to see enemies everywhere, especially where there aren’t any. We assign everyone to this category right from the start, because of our own immaturity and inexperience.
Christ’s desire, the mission of His Church, is that we should all understand that love is the only, the obligatory path which, before it makes us worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, creates the conditions here on earth for a life worth living.