Jesus’ friends and followers (Money & Messiah)
Jesus is often painted as the champion of the poor. He was. He is also frequently painted as the enemy of the rich. He was not. Consider the biblical descriptions of Jesus closest companions:
Poor shepherds (Luke 2.8-9) and wealthy Magi (Matthew 2.1-2) attended Jesus’ birth.
Mary and Joseph owned housing in Bethlehem (Matthew 2.11, 16).
The Magi presented Mary and Joseph with gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2.11) – items of marked value and symbols of affluence and extravagance.
When the Holy Family returned from exile in Egypt, they set up a family business in Galilee and began working as members of a market community (Matthew 2.19-23).
Jesus worked in the family business as an artisan, a tekton (stonemason, joiner, and cartwright) until he was about 30 – then, as now, carpentry was a respectable trade providing a good income, leaving no room for speculation that Jesus’ peers would ever have considered him “poor.”
Jesus never spoke critically of the state-sponsored roads or highways or aqueducts provided by the Roman system of Imperial control, nor did he ever criticize the way the Roman government paid for these advances, which included warfare, military aggression, and over-taxation.
Peter, James, John and Andrew were Galilean fisherman (Mark 1.16-20) – then, as now – those jobs were dirty and smelly, but also lucrative. The Gospels show that these men owned their own boats and nets, ran their own businesses, and even had servants.
Peter’s mother-in-law had a house large enough to accommodate Jesus and his disciples, and they used this home as their base of operations in Capernaum (Mark 8).
The Gospels assert that these men left everything to follow Jesus, which – of course – implies that they were making a considerable sacrifice (something hard to imagine if the only thing they were leaving behind were cardboard boxes and shopping carts filled with tin cans).
Levi (Matthew) the tax collector worked for the Roman government (Luke 5.27-32) and earned his living by charging people for the privilege to live in occupied territory. He was the cultural equivalent of a bookie for the mob. He owned a house and leaving everything was a very significant decision for him.
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus provided Jesus and his disciples with financial support (Luke 10.38-42).
Joseph of Arimathea provided financial support to Jesus and his followers, particularly by donating a tomb for Jesus after the crucifixion (John 19).
A group of wealthy woman also supported Jesus’ ministry financially (Luke 8.3).
The multitudes of people who followed Jesus from place to place were obviously marked by the severest kinds of sickness, poverty, and disease…but not exclusively so. The Roman centurion, for example, who begged Jesus to heal his servant was obviously wealthy (Matthew 8.5-13), as was Zaccheaus (Luke 19) the chief tax collector at whose home Jesus ate supper.
Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute who poured a whole bottle of costly perfume on Jesus feet (Mark 12.1-11) and was criticized by Judas for her extravagance and waste.
This list of often over-looked facts about Jesus’ friends and followers helps us understand that they came from a similar socio-economic background to Jesus himself. I’m also writing it, in part, to burst the bubble of Jesus-as-Che-Guevara or Jesus-as-Ghandi. Comparisons to those historical figures are exciting, but not entirely accurate. As these comparisons grow more popular among my own friends and peers, I am saddened to see the “real” Jesus lost in a sea of sexier, pissier, Jesi who hate everyone with money.
Sadly, these Jesi have no grace to extend to anyone other than homeless people. Homeless people, let us be clear, receive God’s grace. But so do mayors, presidents, and CEOs. Once upon a time, it was provocative in our culture to decry the favoritism of the wealthy within the church. Now, I believe it is provocative to remind us that the rich are human and we need to love them even if we are not among them, particularly if we perceive they have victimized us.
It helps to acknowledge that people in Jesus’ own society would not at all have considered him poor.
(This content was adapted from “Heart of Gold: the joy of living generously”)