This past year, people were taking to the streets in what is called the Occupy movement. For the most part their philosophy is non-violent and the movement is an attempt to speak to cultural leaders and make radical changes to the way the world has been operating. Wikipedia says, “The Occupy movement is an international protest movement which is primarily directed against economic and social inequality.”
It is related to our nation not only because of the protests that occupy areas of our cities but because a Canadian protest group called Adbusters began the movement. Adbusters is an anti-consumerist, pro-environmental group based in Vancouver. Their demands are not all that new; but what is new is that the people who are targeted to lead the change are no longer just governments but the financiers behind the political scenes. They are the ones who are called upon to make the sacrifices that lead to change. This is clearly evident in the main slogan, which is often repeated: “We are the 99 per cent.” Specifically it refers to the one per cent of Americans who disproportionately control the country’s wealth, but is a declaration that the rich are becoming fewer and getting richer, and the poor are paying the price.
Thinking about this movement, which surveys say the majority of Canadians sympathize with, I recalled that when Jesus walked among us he started an occupy movement of his own. The account is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 19. Jesus preached a new way to deal with wealth and at least one wealthy man heard it and promised an amazing thing. He said he would give half of all he had to the poor and if he had defrauded anyone he would restore to the ones he defrauded four times what he took. “Jesus said to him, today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the son of man is come to seek and to save what was lost.”
While we acknowledge that we are saved by grace alone it is still possible that we may extol God’s glory by our deeds. Zacchaeus did just that and Jesus affirms his example. Jesus then goes on to tell a story about how a king establishes his kingdom and the servants’ role in that enterprise: “And he called his 10 servants, and delivered them 10 pounds, and said unto them, Occupy until I come.”
The faithful, the children of Abraham, we Christians, are called upon to be faithful stewards of all we have. Most of us are not in the one per cent of Canada’s wealthy but Canada and its citizens are some of the wealthiest peoples in the world. Corporately and individually, we who still sit at the table with Jesus must listen to what he says about how we invest the wealth he has entrusted to us. While our salvation may not depend on it, most certainly the reputation and glory of our God does.
John Calvin reflecting on this passage reminds us that “though God is not enriched, and makes no gain by our labours, yet when everyone is highly profitable to his brethren, and applies advantageously for their salvation, the gifts which he has received from God, he is said to yield profit or gain, to God Himself. So highly does our heavenly Father value the salvation of men, that whatever contributes to it He chooses to place to His own account.” Surely one of the greatest signs of God’s glory we can show is a generous spirit to those in need; that is taught everywhere in the scriptures.
As I pondered these things I was amazed at how relatively small the Occupy movement was and yet how the message they declared—that the rich need to take responsibility to share the wealth—was so widely broadcast and so eagerly embraced by the majority who felt they were losing not only wealth but the power to bring about change.
Imagine now if all the millions of Christians in the world took the message of Jesus to the streets as passionately as those in the Occupy movement have done with their protest message. It would transform the world in a matter of days or even hours. The gospel message offers not just the opportunity to share wealth but the power of God to change hearts so that those with power and authority (folks like Zacchaeus, or Donald Trump, or us) start doing radically loving things with earnest intent. Then we would see a transformed world and Jesus’ prayer would be answered: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
If that dream seems too big, then imagine if not all Christians in the world signed on but only the Presbyterians—that would be radical beyond belief. What if not all Presbyterians signed on but only those who read this article? There would be significant change in the land that would spread across the globe.
Suppose you were the only one to take up Jesus’ invitation to “Occupy until I come.” God would be glorified and a significant light would be lit!
Most importantly, you would hear at his coming the words of commendation recorded in Matthew, “Enter into the joy of your master.”