A new wave of Bible thumpers has emerged. Politicians join religious leaders in quoting the Bible, yes, the Bible, to support their agendas. Not surprisingly, Pope Francis has quoted the Bible in his messages for reform. To the astonishment of many, however, those who reject the Bible as true and authoritative for life, who even ban it from public forums, hold it high to reenforce their arguments and influence approval of their programs. Suddenly, Jesus rides a new wave of popularity!
Not so fast. Sadly, the recent use of Jesus' quotes misinterprets and misuses Christ and his message. For example, Pope Francis recently used the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19.1-10 to suggest “legitimate redistribution” of money to the poor. (1) A brief explanation of the story completely changes the erroneous use of this story by Pope Francis.
Zacchaeus belonged to a profession called publicans. During the time of Jesus, publicans served as extensions of the Roman government, which ruled in Judea and gave authority to them to levy taxes in Israel. The Romans assigned these positions to the highest bidders for a given territory. The publicans taxed imports and exports of the Jews. The publicans enjoyed governmentally granted rights to assign any tax they desired upon those who imported and/or exported goods based upon examination of their merchandise.
These taxes added to the already oppressive taxes levied by the Romans upon the Jews. These greedy officials extracted extravagant sums from their subjects, frequently by fraud and extortion. (2) Needless to say, the Jews hated these officials.
Luke did not describe their conversations in his record of Jesus' visit with Zacchaeus. But, he did preserve the effects of their meeting upon Zacchaeus. After his meeting with Jesus, Zacchaeus repaid those whom he had cheated. In addition, he gave substantial funds to the poor. According to the Biblical record, Jesus did not make these demands to Zacchaeus.
In part, Zacchaeus made one of his offers based upon Old Testament Law. He had stolen from many people, and the Law required that he repay them in excess of his theft as retribution. The other gifts to the poor he provided apparently out of concern for their lot. At no point in the account does Luke indicate coercion or requirement from the government to make his payments to those he defrauded or to the poor. Neither do Luke's statements reveal that Jesus made any demands.
These facts contradict Pope Francis's interpretation and application of the story. No where in the record did Jesus direct Zacchaeus's plans. Further, no where in the Bible did God ever establish governmental taxation. In fact, he warned Israel, when they desired a king, that the king would extract taxes from them, contrary to God's plans. (3) Similar to Pope Francis, many misinterpret and misapply sayings of Jesus especially as they relate to care for the poor.
The Bible does provide instruction on how to care for the poor. God specifically commands families to provide for their family member's needs (not wants). When the poor cannot receive sufficient help from their families, the Bible teaches that others express their love for God by contributing to their needs. I have commented upon these issues which you can find at this link. (4)
The misuse of Biblical texts always leads to false conclusions, twisting the truth of the totality of the Bible. When people abuse the words of Christ in this way, they imply that Jesus said something that he neither said nor meant. Further, it leads to hypocrisy in the lives of those who dare to use the Bible to support their personal agendas. One cannot pick those parts of the Bible that appear to support a personal plan and reject those which they do not like.
While Pope Francis and others attempt to put words into Jesus' mouth, Jesus did make commands for all people to follow. For example, Jesus condemned sexual immorality of all kinds, including homosexuality. (5) At another time, Jesus vilified hypocrisy in those who feigned belief in the Bible. (6) He even outlined the parties in marriage. (7) Those quick to take words from the Bible and Jesus out of context blatantly reject these and other clear statements from the Bible.
More importantly, Jesus presented himself as the only Savior for sinners. He offered eternal life, his life, to all who would believe upon him. (8) He confirmed his offer by saying that he would accept everyone who came to him. (9) Millions of people, including me, have taken Jesus at his word and trusted upon him. We have found him faithful to his promises.
Perhaps, you have never heard of Jesus' offers. Or maybe you have simply accepted the popular interpretations of the Bible and Christ's message. To do so will result in the misapplication and misuse of them to your eternal detriment. In any event, you can begin a new life today. I pray that God's Holy Spirit will come to you today, give you that new life, and enable you to trust the clear statements of Jesus.
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