The question persists whether Jesus was wealthy or not. Like many things about him this is another of many riddles about him. Is there another side to Jesus that lies in the shadow outside our visible perception? Agreed, during his ministry Jesus acted consistent with one who was poor. He had no visible source of income, he apparently had no property, he had little or no food, he wore a scratchy mediocre robe and worn out sandals and he surrounded himself with laborers, sinners, tax collectors and ministered primarily to the dispossessed, infirmed and poor. Generally speaking, the wealthy tend to have a source of income, property, food, fine clothes and similar likeminded friends. This is an open and shut case, right? Not so fast. Jesus’ wealth and money theme contradict his poor itinerant portrait and suggests something quite different. Of his many themes, Jesus speaks about money, treasure and wealth the most. In other words, money is Jesus’ number one subject – more than the Father and the Kingdom of Heaven. Imagine that? What are we suppose to make of this? That money is the root of all evil? That the root of evil is merely a moral and ethical truth Jesus exposed? I’m not going to say that is incorrect, but let’s for a moment examine his sayings and then determine how he managed to have so much intimate knowledge about this one subject.
When I collected and categorized his sayings by theme, I noticed a reoccurring and over arching pattern: Jesus is intimate about his knowledge. He speaks about what he knows and he speaks from personal experiences which is the place where wisdom is born, nurtured and cultivated. Jesus is not speculating about God or making suggestions or solutions about something he knows nothing about. He does not say, “I think things are like this.” Rather he is firm, clear, concise, elegant and resolute. Again, that is not to say Jesus wasn’t keenly observant. That is one hearty dimension of his personality and mind. Not only was he observant about himself but he was also observant about his society, human nature and the Father. But the question persists. Did Jesus come from wealth?
How can one draw a conclusion one way or another?
Several clues exist and are contained within his sayings. When his sayings are contrasted against his actions the matter clarifies and comes into focus. What clues are in his sayings in regards to money, wealth or treasure that shed light on this question? Here is a list of financial topics Jesus spoke about: labor, wages, wage negotiations, labor disputes, farming, crops or products to market, interest, lending and borrowing, capital investment, capital reinvestment, return on investment, bad and good management, estate and property management, spotting and finding hidden opportunities, investment sacrifice, laboring to pay for and upkeep a property, taxes, future yield and, lastly, inheritance. This list is further sub-categorized into types – merchant, farmer, owner, inheritor and laborer. For a man who was spiritually motivated and inclined and has incredible insight into the divine, it is difficult to accept that his intimate knowledge of money and wealth derives from poverty or carpentry. It is simply not the case.
Another point to mention about Jesus is that he was highly educated. Exposure to ideas, history, methods and practices and to cultivate and implement them in one’s life is a long term process. How could he have so much time to so if he were poor? Also, the structure and rhetorical style of his storytelling is Greek while many of his themes and subject matter do not stem from his Hebrew traditions. For example, his concept of the Father is not Hebrew its Greek and rarely does Jesus illuminate or illustrate Hebrew history, patriarchs, sages or prophets except in the negative. He incorporates ideas and insights from outside his Hebrew context. This in itself does not suggest wealth but it is another piece of the Jesus puzzle because it points to traveling and traveling takes money.
The last point I want to share is that Jesus emulated the very themes of which he spoke. What do I mean by that? Like a farmer, Jesus went out and sowed. Like a carpenter, he built a ministry and following. Like one receiving an unearned inheritance, the Father, he invested it for future returns. Like a merchant, Jesus found new opportunities to share his product, again the Father, in every village, town and city he visited. How could Jesus have known each of these disciplines or ways of life if he wasn’t already immerse in them for years?
Once one question is answered, inevitably another surfaces. If Jesus was born and raised in relatively wealthy family, which I believe, new questions jump forward – Why did he turn against wealth in general? Why would Jesus turn against his family’s wealth and values in particular? But then again, why did he use the metaphor of wealth and investment in his ministry? These questions are the topic for another blog.