I am fascinated by the recent efforts to recast Jesus into a free-market Capitalist. Forgetting for a moment that it is anachronistic to project Capitalism (or any other contemporary economic and/or political ideology) onto the first century, there is one significant and famous story in ALL of the Gospels that demonstrates that Jesus was NOT a free-market Capitalist. That story is the multiplication of the fishes and loaves to feed 5,000 men (not counting their wives and kids).
The story in the Gospels goes like this:
The students said to Jesus late in the afternoon, “We’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting late. Tell everyone to go home; or at the very least, tell them to go to the nearest town so they can buy themselves something to eat.”
Jesus said to his students, “They don’t have to go anywhere. Why don’t you give them some food?”
They said to him, “We don’t have enough! We only have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Jesus said, “Bring me whatever you have.” He told the people in the crowd to sit down on the grass. He then took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, he looked up toward the sky, he said grace, and then he tore the bread and the fish into pieces. He gave the pieces to the students, who then gave the pieces to the people in the crowd. Everyone in the crowd ate until they were full. There were even leftovers! When everyone cleaned up after the meal, there were enough pieces leftover to fill twelve baskets. There were about 5,000 men who were fed, not to mention their wives and children.
(As found in Matthew 14, The New Peace Treaty: A New Translation of the New Testament)
In differing versions of this story, Jesus feels compassion for the crowd. He worries about them. He is concerned for their welfare and is afraid they may collapse trying to get back home or before they can find a place to sell them food.
But if Jesus were a free-market Capitalist, the story would go something like this:
Jesus looked at the crowd and became concerned. There was an opportunity to make a quick profit and He was missing out on it. Jesus said to the disciples, “We need to find food for these people!”
The disciples said to Jesus, “We’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting late. How are we going to find food? Tell everyone to go home; or at the very least, tell them to go to the nearest town so they can buy themselves something to eat.”
Jesus said, “And miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity?!? Are you crazy?!?!?!? What do we have in our inventory?
They said, “We don’t have enough! We only have five loaves of bread and two fish.” [In John’s Gospel, they would say “We are out of stock, there is a boy here with some bread and fish.”]
Jesus declared, “Get ready! I’m going to show you the miracle of Capitalism! Let me have the bread and fish on credit. You get the people ready by having them sit down in groups on the grass.”
Jesus then took the bread and the fish, thanked God for giving him the Capital he needed to start this venture, tore the bread and fish into pieces and gave the pieces to the disciples, who then sold the bread and the fish to the crowd at extremely high prices because they were a captive audience far away from the next food vender. The disciples then took the money to Jesus, who paid them back for their initial investment, plus a profit.
When it was over, the disciples picked up the leftovers and there were enough to fill twelve baskets – one for each of them. So Jesus offered to sell them a franchise in the bread and fish multiplying industry.
Jesus took the profits from that day, plus the payments for the franchises, and the subsequent residual income and invested it wisely in the Cayman Islands and in Swiss Banks to avoid paying taxes to the Romans. He took a portion of that wealth and used it to bribe judges and officials, and even finance his own private army. He then spread money around the Roman Senate to have pro-Jesus legislation passed, as well as laws that make it easier for his disciples to sell fish and bread, while securing from the Senate the sole fish-and-bread-selling contract for the entire Empire. Jesus was then elected Emperor and crucified anyone who tried to muscle in on or compete with, his fish and bread multiplying Corporation.
So, can we please dispel this new and persistent myth that Jesus was a free-market Capitalist? Can we please stop substituting political platforms and economic theory for the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The political platform of Jesus is love; and the economic system he advocates is “everybody give!” Because if everybody gives, then everybody receives — and receives more than they give.