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Is Matthew Parris right?

December 29, 2012

I have often enjoyed the contributions of Matthew Parris, who writes with insight, wit and often compassion, but in todays Opinion piece (Times 29th December 2012) I have to disagree with him. His contention is that some of the poor that we (society/Christians) have to look after are undeserving. Now it is clearly true that there are people who do not respond well to help, those who when help is withdrawn become needy again, and it is clearly better to somehow get people on their feet than to continually give them charity. It is clearly the case that the proportion of time and resources demanded by such people is 80% of the workload of those who help. (Pareto rule: You would expect this to be the case!) This much I can agree on…

But Matthew then argues that we must redefine the Jesus definition of “your neighbour” `as someone you encounter in trouble` “will plainly not do”. My first reaction was “who are you, Matthew Parris, to redefine Jesus defination?” It does seem to me that we (in the modern world) are far to fond of redefining what God says to suit our own ends, but that is a rant for another day…

The fact is that Jesus does not make any distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor, he goes out of his way to make no distinction between our people and others (in this case, Samaritans). He is saying that it is not our place to judge, or put strings on our help – we must simply serve our neighbour with love.

But there is a distinction that Matthew Parris fails to make, Jesus is not talking about how society should be organised, he is talking to a person of faith, who wants to “enter the Kingdom of God”. This is no general principle that applies to society at large – rather it is a specific demand to those who choose to follow Jesus.

Matthews observation that we “jumble together two quite different things: redistributing wealth and helping chronic failures” is absolutely right, but entirely misses the point! God made clear his intention was to redistribute wealth in each generation, through the redistribution of land every 50 years in the Jubilee. This gave everyone an equal opportunity to progress, it does it through human effort on a level playing field rather than what Matthew acknowledges is a “grotesquely inequitable” distribution of wealth through capitalism. It is not that Christians or socialists have “killed socialism with kindness” it is more that no-one has ever shown the leadership or political will to put jubilee into practice!

But this is not `jumbled` with our concern for our neighbour. Redistribution of wealth, through taxation, social benefits, or jubilee is what we should expect and demand of society; concern for our neighbour (deserving or undeserving) is what we voluntarily give as an individual prompted by the love of God.

Matthews conclusion “We should harden our hearts against human failure” knows nothing of Gods love and grace to us – who when we are really honest have to conclude that we are failures as we do not live up to our own limited ideals! Matthew continues that we should “open our minds to making hard work pay, pay all our countrymen, and pay them properly” is a neat side step from real wealth redistribution which, by definition, means those with more than they need giving it away to those with less than they need. If `compassionate` Matthew is not prepared to take this step, there is little wonder that the rest of the privileged are not prepared to do the right thing.

Please will someone with influence take the steps necessary for a jubilee to happen?


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