Jesus said the darnedest things, at least in Luke. He says to hate our parents, he curses the rich and blesses the poor. In fact, if you look at his words generally, you can see that he is given to hyperbole in order to make a point.
I have a quarrel with the witness of SOME Evangelicals, because sometimes it seems to be the program of the Republican Party rather than that of the Bible. They simply disregards certain pointed sayings of Jesus and instead prefers a Republican spin. Even tho Jesus indulged in hyperbole, yet he is making a point, the point that Cardinal Bernardin called “the preferential option for the poor.” You cannot serve God and Mammon (possessions).
Certainly the poor—or “destitute” in Greek—are not all saints, and they frequently commit the same sins we all do. And they too can be infected with greed. Nevertheless, they are the victims of social injustice, and to deny them such justice because they are sinners is to upset the whole Christian message. Wolfgang Stegemann says “The first followers of Jesus, like their master, were from the poor and hungry, not as the result of any renunciation of possessions but because in fact they possessed nothing.” He adds that this may be hard to take because social criticism then is “voiced not by ethically motivated heroes of renunciation but by probably very unattractive characters.”
Arer Jesus’ words against wealth are in the same category as his warnings against the pursuit of power and of physical pleasure. I believe they are, and they come under the rubric of “worldliness,” a fixation on “the things of this world.” As Jesus in John says, Satan is the prince of this world.
But Christians are called, in a sense, out of this world. They are to work for a world transfigured, the Kingdom of God. That is why I have great respect for the ideals of monasticism, whether of the East or West, with its vows and ideals of poverty, chastity and obedience—designed to fight our natural lust for wealth, sex, and power. Instead, their practice was ora et labora, pray and work.
I don’t think God or Jesus is either a liberal or a conservative. I think he is a radical. And Christians are called to be radicals. We disagree with one another all the time, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s done in the spirit of what St Paul calls agape, love or charity.
John Dominic Crossan sees the birth of Christianity taking place in the episodes in Luke where Jesus sends out first twelve, then seventy itinerant apostles (missionaries). Crossan makes a case that these are the homeless destitute being sent to the merely poor householders practicing subsistence farming. Both are victims of the political/religious power structure centered in Jerusalem, with satellites in such Galilean cities as Sepphoris and Tiberias.
The Jesus Seminar (!), BTW, said at least one good thing: “For Jesus, God’s kingdom is a modest affair, not obvious to the untutored eye. It offers little by way of earthly reward. Its demands are staggering. He apparently did not want it confused with traditional mundane hopes.”
Crossan also says that there was always dissension such as we have today in the Church: He speaks of the commercialization of Palestine under the Romans, and adds “That commercialization process set against one another those poor peasants who might be dispossessed tomorrow and those destitute peasants who had been dispossessed yesterday. It is these destitute landless ones and poor landed ones that the Kingdom of God movement brings together as itinerants and householders.”
“Compassion, no matter how immediately necessary or profoundly human, cannot substitute for justice, for the right of all to equal dignity and integrity of life. Those who live by compassion are often canonized. Those who live by justice are often crucified.”
IOW, almsgiving is restitution. As St Vincent de Paul said, “You must have great love for the poor in order that they may forgive you the bread that you given them.”