“the problem of theft and competition”

This is my part of a recent email conversation with a friend:

I think non-resistance is the way to go. And you have the right idea about the outcome (“what is not valued (possessions, wealth, position) can hardly truly be taken”). This was Jesus’ teaching as well:

 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  (Luke 6:30, 35-36)

Cooperatives and credit unions are good examples for us to consider, especially in our consumerist economy, but in my opinion they are only one shade of the complete picture. The real colors start to fill in when we truly “renounce everything,” like Jesus taught, and follow him. Maybe we too quickly forget that Jesus’ life really ended, and that He lost everything, due to unjust laws and unjust people. He is our example, and yet He did not physically resist those who intended to carry out an evil plan. Instead, He prayed to do the will of his Father. That should be our prayer as well, no matter what the circumstance.

This does not mean that Jesus became a “quietist” who stayed silent and withdrew from evil. The opposite is actually true: he was killed and hated for the things he said. The difference is that Jesus never tried to force the evil out of someone. He never used violence or some other threat of worldly coercion in order to overcome their evil intent. He trusted God to restrain evil and lived a completely free life in the midst of it, speaking fearlessly about the consequences of sin and of a real repentance that was possible.

One of my favorite passages in Luke offers Jesus’ response to the problem of theft and competition: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33) Greed cannot corrupt us and we will not be overcome by it, if we abandon ourselves into God’s hands like Jesus did.

In that sense, physical poverty may be the best path to a prayerful surrender of our will to God, who is able to protect and care for us much better than we ourselves would. I know my life often seems more complicated and a bit too murky to envision like that. But if Jesus is right (and my writing here accurately portrays him), to what extent are we doing what he said?