Discover the economic lessons of Jesus Christ

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In early September, the Washington Post Featured an innocent public service story about papayas, a fruit native to the Mid-Atlantic region that tastes like a fusion of bananas and mangoes and that some Washington-area dwellers happily seek out in their woodland communities.

Even this, in our militant age, has drawn outrage from some readers. “I was shocked to hear that groups of people are going on a trek to pick papaya fruit,” wrote Myriam Piers, resident of Washington, who accused the papaya foragers of greed. “Let’s leave this ‘feast’ to opossums, foxes, squirrels, raccoons and birds,” she urged.

I’m no longer surprised by such nonsensical comments, which evade simple questions such as “are any of these animals in danger or starving for food?” (The answer, of course, is no). And if we applied this laughable logic to all the cultures we share with the rest of the animal kingdom, marry be most at risk. Nevertheless, the fact that such blind thinking makes it one of the most important newspapers in the country suggests a deeper stupidity: we are a civilization completely confused about the role of initiative in improving ourselves and even the natural world. .

Robert Sirico, co-founder of the Acton Institute and a Catholic priest, has given much thought to the role of the creative enterprise in relation to human flourishing. In his new book “The parabola economyhe identifies a surprising source of economic wisdom: the parables of Jesus in the New Testament. “I suspect it is precisely because so many parables draw on the enduring realities of economics and commercial life that provide enduring lessons,” Sirico writes. “This book therefore seeks to reinforce the higher truths contained in the parables by investigating the more practical ends of economics, commerce, and business ethics that may be overlooked.”

It might sound a bit cynical and selfish of the founder of a pro-capitalist organization to claim that the Gospels promote private property, free enterprise and careful management of money, as if Jesus were not came both to save humanity and to free them to participate in a market economy. Yet Sirico is sincere in his assertion that transcendent truth is what matters most in Scripture, and that any economic principles we can derive from it are of secondary importance. In each chapter that deals with a different parable, he ensures that the spiritual lesson, not the economic one, remains at the forefront.

Moreover, Sirico’s approach is not inclined to over-interpretation, but to simple observations of the implicit economic principles underlying the first-century world in which the parables were first presented. Whatever wisdom Jesus seeks to convey in parables contextualized by farming, trade, employment, or inheritance, the presumption must be that the audience would infer certain economic ideas about what he describes. In this sense, Sirico’s approach is comparable to that of Adam Smith, whose writings were based on his observations of market activities, rather than an attempt to create an economic system from scratch, unlike Karl Marx. .

For example, in the parable of the hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44), we read:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field; which, when a man has found it, he hides it, and for his joy he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.

On the supernatural level, the parable is quite simple: God and heaven are worth so much that it is prudent to give up everything to acquire them. But Sirico pulls the thread of the parable in another direction: the man who discovers the treasure does not tell the owner of the field what is there (otherwise, presumably, the owner would be less willing to part with it) . Is he dishonest? Not necessarily, as all trading involves a subjective valuation of the good in question – think of the many times you come across a particular product that you are valuing is worth more than its price. Moreover, many economic exchanges imply that one party perceives a potential in the good (for example real estate) that the other party underestimates.

The parable of the hidden treasure, in addition to emphasizing the paramount importance of giving priority to transcendent goods, also points us to other lessons. This includes being attentive, ordering our assessment of goods and identifying how the acquisition of these goods can enrich us. “The future is always uncertain, so people who are willing to take responsible and informed risks are valuable, especially when risking their own resources.”

Sometimes Sirico’s analysis goes in surprising directions. In the parable of the rich fool, Jesus refuses a request to intervene in an inheritance dispute between two brothers and even implicitly accuses the requester of covetousness. It’s a bit startling because the claimant was probably a younger brother who, according to Jewish inheritance laws, would inevitably be the poorest. “We rarely hear anyone say that the demands of the poor are motivated by greed, and yet the poor, like the rich, can be inspired by the wrong motives,” Sirico writes.

On a few occasions Sirico avoids important debates, as I would say in his analysis of the workers in the vineyard, the parable in which the owner of the vineyard pays the men he has hired at the end of the day in the same way as those who worked a full day. Sirico notes that rewards for work are never distributed evenly, but according to the subjective value of the final product. Fair enough, but many scholars have argued that this parable endorses a living wage – whether that’s accurate or not, the popularity of this interpretation demands an answer, one that Sirico does not provide.

More broadly, Sirico notes that the entrepreneurial and business context of many parables, as well as other details in the gospels, provide a compelling counterweight to prominent Christians such as Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart, who believes that the New Testament is, among other things, a socialist tract. Consider, for example, the fact that Jesus was friends not only with the poor but also with the rich, who funded his ministry. Several women are described as benefactors of Jesus and his disciples (Luke 8:3), and Joseph of Arimathea, a “rich man” is the one who offers the tomb in which Jesus is (temporarily) buried (Matthew 27:57- 61). And when Jesus is crucified, among his few possessions is a “seamless, fully woven from above” garment, a highly valuable commodity at odds with the popular portrayal of Jesus as an impoverished itinerant preacher who shunned all forms of wealth. (John 19:23).

Sirico offers a rebuttal to those who claim that ubiquitous scriptural warnings about wealth mean one cannot be rich and a Christian: The Bible talks about wealth the same way it talks about sex. For both, it is not the thing itself that is culpable or bad, but its abuse. “In the Christian tradition, neither material things nor sexuality can be defined as inherently evil,” he writes. Both can be used morally, “generous and faithful”.

This reflects a consistent theme in “The Economy of Parables”: what Sirico calls “the voluntary nature of Christian commitment”. Men and women are urged, not coerced, to embrace the gospel. There is a corollary here to economic questions, which “pervade practically all human life on earth”. If our economy, like our religion, is primarily defined by coercion, it will suffer ethical and intellectual decay.

Our religious life and our economic life require of us initiative, diligence and moral rectitude, as we cultivate the soil of our souls and our land. When we are careless, the result is indolence and chaos. “When limitations of human cultivation of the land are undertaken due to the mistaken belief that unploughed land is somehow morally preferable to land that has been worked or cultivated, problems arise. The jungle is not always preferable to the garden,” writes Sirico.

“The Economy of Parables” reminds us that if we apply common wisdom that has been around for 2,000 years, we should be able to have our papayas and eat them too.


Casey Chalk is a senior contributor to The Federalist and an editor and columnist at The New Oxford Review. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in teaching from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in theology from Christendom College. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands.

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