Was Jesus homeless and skint? A conversation with Kyb.

Kyb, its always been a pleasure disagreeing with you, and this has been no exception – but the post is now so long, I’m putting it in as new post, a link to the original is here, see the comments for the start of our discussion.

For the unitiated, my initial assertion was that I Jesus was homeless and skint, Kyb employed his considerable intellect to make certain disagreements, we discussed it, and ended up here:

Kyb’s points are in italics, and my responses to them are in normal text.

They absolutely had the money to pay the temple tax. Peter had no hesitation in answering “Yes he does” to the people who asked if Jesus paid the temple tax. The fish thing is a gigantic joke by Jesus who wants to avoid making his disciple look a fool while at the same time claiming exemption from the tax.

Peter’s response is an impulsive one, a defensive response to his master’s honour – much like the ear cutting off incident.

My take on the fish incident is in part what you describe, a disarming sleight of hand, a piece of physical theatre, which is something else he liked to do.

He did have somewhere to live – with his family, who at one point came to take him home, but chose not to, instead staying with his friends and disciples around the country, many of whom were wealthy.

This is semantics, under this assessment, everybody has somewhere to live, for is there really nobody who would take them in? No, Jesus says: “foxes have holes… etc (Matt 8: 20) which has long been understood to mean that Jesus was entirely dependant upon God and the charity of others for a place to sleep. Even the Pope in 1997 said about this passage: “The Lord wished to show his total openness to his Heavenly Father, whose will he was determined to carry out without letting himself be hindered by the possession of worldly goods: for there is always a danger that earthly realities will take the place of God in the human heart.”

In fact, I don’t believe that he forced his mother into poverty because of his mission, I think part of why he probably started his mission so relatively late is because before that he was assuring her and his own financial independence (since Joseph seemed to be no longer in the picture).

Jesus didn’t start his ministry late, it would be normal for a levitical priest/ rabbi to collect his disciples at the age of 30.

I can’t believe that the same guy who preached against the teachers of the laws use of Corban to avoid providing for their parents would neglect his own duties to his family and younger siblings.

There is not necessarily a question of leaving his family in poverty, as you point out they had a home, his brothers were probably of working age, Joseph may still have been around, and when he was crucified, he commended his mother to his disciple’s care. Anyway, you might say he had a greater responsibility…?

Of course the soldiers only had his clothes to divide up – none of his property was in Jerusalem, and when they arrested him, they took only him, leaving his camp full of disciples and the communal belongings behind.

I don’t know why you think the guy who said ‘dont store up for yourself treasures on earth’ had property, or where you think he would have kept it. Did nomadic rabbis have lock up garages?

His disciples picked wild food to eat as they were walking through a field, as anyone would. They also had no problem going into town to buy food while he met the woman at the well, or renting an upper room. Even after he died, they were able to remain in the city, eat, living without having to revert back to their old jobs.

Ok, I’ll give you this, I do think they probably had some money now and then, but not a lot. I doubt they would have had to buy a lot of food or hire a room, I think there would have been a culture of hospitality in the 1st century Palestine just as there is now. This ties in with the common misconception that Joseph and Mary would have had to go to a ‘hotel’ in Bethlehem, a hotel? What do people think? That Premier Inn had a Bethlehem branch? The natural thing would have been (since they were going to the town of their ancestors) that they would stay with relatives, but somehow we’ve misconstrued the word used into the idea they went to stay with mr innkeeper. Nice for nativity plays, just doesn’t make much sense. If we consider this wider question in the light of what we know about the culture of the place and time, these holy men wouldn’t have been likely to pay for such hospitality.

Luke 9:14 ” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.)

That may have been sarcasm, but strongly suggests to me that they had at least eight months wages in the kitty (which Philip tells us wouldn’t quite be enough).

I don’t know what the protocol would have been for this kind of situation, or who would have been regarded the host, and who the guests, but there is an implicit assumption on your part that the disciples would have bought the food with their own funds, which is not necessarily correct. The parable here may be more to do with people co-operating than we think. I don’t want to take away from the supernatural ability of Jesus, but I am minded to think that maybe it was the simple act of sharing which provided the answer here…

As a Rabbi, he would have been responsible for his disciples, I don’t think he would have taken that responsibility on if he didn’t know he could look after them.

Don’t you think he knew God would be able to provide for them? In Matthew 6, he tells other people to expect that God can provide for their needs, so why wouldn’t he expect God to provide for his?

I’m not sure why you think Judas only took the 30 pieces of silver with him on desertion. In fact, according to Matthew, he tried to return the money when he realised what he’d done. It wouldn’t have made sense to try to return the 30 pieces plus the contents of the kitty. I suspect that he didn’t expect them to actually execute Jesus, otherwise he wouldn’t have been so remorseful, and that he almost certainly left the kitty with the other disciples when he went to commit suicide.

Yeah maybe I’m wide of the mark on this one, but I don’t see any evidence of Judas being left with any money, or the disciples having a polite chat with Judas in the aftermath… “I say Judas, you really have done it now, you’d better sling your hook old chap, and don’t even think of taking the dosh you blighter.” I see the suicide as a final act of someone who knew he had blown it completely, filled with remorse and desperation, who threw the coins back at the priests, who wouldn’t accept them back as they were blood money, and went and hung himself, unable to return to his friends or former life. Unless your take is that Judas’ betrayal was an attempt to precipitate a revolution, which I accept as a possibility, another large possibility is that it was motivated by money.

Women were prepared to give their entire dowry to Jesus in costly shows of affection. Tax collectors and very wealthy men left their professions to do whatever he said. He was invited to parties all over the place. I think there would have been many gifts to his kitty – to the extent that it would be worthy stealing from, and thinking that there was enough there that you’d get away with it too.

The specific incident you mention is notable because of many reasons, for one thing, the disciples said: “This could have been sold, and the money given to the poor.” They didn’t say, ‘could have been used to expand our ministry/ buy you a donkey/ meet the day to day running costs’.

Historians tell us that at the time there was a huge remove between rich and poor, with the majority (95%) of people living on the edge of destitution, subsistence farming, living in poverty and oppression. There was a tiny, massively wealthy elite. Unless Jesus was (as much the church appears to believe) the ambassador of the middle class, which would have been totally unlike other rabbis of the time, who were itinerant and dependant upon charity. Then he must have been poor or rich, I choose to look at the evidence and conclude he was not rich. (For instance in his response to the rich young man.)

I can only find one verse in the bible where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor”, and I think the comparison between Luke 6:20 and Matthew 5:3 raises doubts about whether he was meaning that financially or not.

I am not saying that blessed are the poor means only the poor materially, it is widely held to be the ‘poor in spirit’ which in turn refers to those totally dependant upon God. Yes many poor people would fall into this category, and few rich people.

Personally I don’t think that God wants to spend his time providing for people to whom he has given the intelligence and strength to provide both for themselves and to fulfil their obligation to provide for others.

You think God is restricted by time?

And you think its necessary for you and I to strive to provide for others? Lets be clear, there is plenty of money maybe even just inside the church as it is at the moment, to feed the world. If we were to live as Jesus did, only taking for each of us what we need, and to give freely to one another as each of us has need, there would be no poverty in the world. This is a distraction, which serves to enslave most of us to the producer/consumer lifestyle. Very few people do what you suggest and earn money, taking only what they need and giving the rest away, we need more people to live with less, not more to earn more.

Rather, I prefer the example of Paul, who when it was necessary (and sometimes even when he could have claimed support didn’t) worked hard for his living so as not to be a burden to those he was ministering to.

I tend to look at Paul, who said he was able to be happy in any situation, riches or poverty, and see someone who ministered naturally within his context. He worked in the marketplace, and ministered there, modeling a different way of life. He wasn’t simply working as a way to fund his ministry – it was part of his ministry.

True generosity, said Ghandi, is not to be found in giving, but in only taking what you really need. Riches are not a blessing, the rich find it very difficult to enter the kingdom, even in Jesus time that was true, it remains so now.

Lets not forget the old Sunday school song about Peter and John who were asked for alms by the lame man: “Silver and Gold have I none, but such as I have do I give to thee…”

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4 thoughts on “Was Jesus homeless and skint? A conversation with Kyb.

  1. Ok, lots of good points.

    I certainly accept that it’s possible that Peter was embarrassed and just shooting his mouth off, but I still think it’s more likely that he actually thought it reasonable and possible for the temple tax to be paid out of the money Jesus had. I like the way Jesus used a slightly awkward situation to make a joke, honour his disciple and at the same time make a theological point (“then the sons are exempt”).

    I basically don’t agree that Jesus was entirely dependant on the charity of others for a place to stay. When you’re off on preaching trips, camping round the country, it would seem that way, but I think Jesus had a home just like anyone else. He was dependant on God for food and a place to stay in the same way I am – I’ve been given skills by God, and the opportunity to practice those skills in employment for which I am paid, nevertheless, those who enjoy my company will occasionally invite me to parties or feed me.

    The foxes have holes passage is obvious poetry, and I think the context is one in which he sees into the hearts of potential followers and points out the specific things in their lives that hold them back. No follower of Jesus can find their security in their home environment, they must all be prepared to give it up and travel if called to.

    As I see it, the whole point about the Corban passage is to say that you can’t avoid the small responsibilities by claiming you’re fulfilling the big ones ‘instead’.

    “Don’t store up treasures for yourself on earth” is said as a specific contrast with storing up treasures for yourself in heaven. It’s not that money is not useful nor something that we should know how to get and look after- indeed we’re told to be financially wise, and many times told to work with our hands so that we can support our dependants and others, it’s that treasure in heaven is less transitory than treasure on earth and so should be sought “first”.

    Just thinking about scalability, and Jesus’ friends. Even if we accept that he himself relied on the gifts of others, that would have been impossible if those others didn’t have a surplus themselves, gained from someones hard work. I believe Ghandi once remarked on the great amount it had cost his friends for him to live in poverty. Whether you think that Jesus was poor or not, it’s pretty clear that God wants a decent number of his people to be wealthy enough to feed their friends when they and their 12 disciples come to visit.

    “This could have been sold and given to the poor”. Indeed, he didn’t say “could have been used to meet our day to day running costs”, but it’s made pretty clear that he expected that the money would have gone into the communal purse where he could get at it.

    It’s not about restriction of time, it’s about maturity, and what God really wants from us. I don’t believe that he wants us to rely on him directly for things that he has blessed us with the ability to get for ourselves except in specific and unusual circumstances.

    I don’t even think God wants us to take only what we need either. If we each made do with only what we needed, there would be no parties, and I think it’s obvious from both the old and new testament that God is big into parties.

    I’m in full agreement that too many people are locked into a vicious cycle of desire, stress, work and acquisition for purely selfish motives, but this is not the only story that you find, and indeed, a very large number of people I know work in charities and social organisations to make the world a better place, and while increasing my own comfort and freedom is one of my own motivations for working – perhaps more so than it should be, others include the responsibility to provide for those I love and meet, the desire to have a spare bed for visitors, spare icecream to feast them on when they visit, and the ability to provide support to individuals, causes and regions that need it. Not to mention, occasionally, at its best, the joy of doing well, work that God has fitted me for.

  2. I suppose the problem here is that Jesus ministry wasnt really very long, which doesnt give us much room for discussion. It certainly appears that for the years in which he was an itinerant rabbi, he would have effectively been homeless, unless that is of course you think he took time off from being the messiah to go back home and whip up a table or two? 😉

    You and I are not in quite the same position as Jesus, both of us are in positions (because of our context) of being able by human ingenuity to provide for ourselves to a limited extent. Clearly things could go wrong, your hands could be injured in a freak bolt gun incident, or etc – but in the normal course of things, we should be able to get by, especially as we are living in a country where people are looked after, and everything gets insured.

    Jesus wasnt in that context, he could have died on a mountain top, or in a remote place, he could have starved or been killed by political enemies… oh yeah, hang on…

    I do accept that for people like you and I, there is faith involved on our work lives, but I dont see either of us as being in a situation that is directly comparable to Jesus’.

    One of the problems with what you are suggesting is that this opens Jesus up to the criticism that many 21st century missionaries or Christian workers are open to – namely that they are ‘slumming it’ and can/will disappear back to a comfortable life when things get too tough. This has never been an acceptable way to see Jesus, who lived among the poor and became their champion. He who lampooned power and wealth, and counted as his friends the destitute and the dispossesed – he wasnt just playing the part.

    He knew that wealth and money were corrosive, he said ‘you cannot serve two masters’ – and he was no hypocrite.

    I am not saying that he left his family in destitution, I just dont think he behaved in the way you suggest. You’re talking as if there would have been no other options, either Jesus brought home the dosh, or they all starved, I dont agree.

    Here’s my personal opinion, I actually think that money in and of itself can be a dangerous and corrupting thing – and it would do most of us good, to deal with less of it – not more. Money serves to alienate us from the true value of things, it objectifies everthing, even the body, it becomes a god in and of itself, it embodies greed, and it deepens and widens the divide between those who have, and those who have not.

    It’s the kingdom of God which should be sought first, not treasures in heaven, and there’s no indication anywhere that treasures on earth should be sought at all!

    I dont suggest that nobody had property, and nobody had income – this is clear from the early church, which held people who did just that, and then sold stuff as needs arose. But here’s the thing, this is a very different time – there are plenty of us around with property and income, it would hardly be a problem if a few more of us didnt! The question is whether we buy into the worldly way of looking at things ‘my income, my choice on who to give it to, how to spend it etc’ or the early church model ‘hold everything in common’. Look, many of my friends are wealthy people, many of them have very generous hearts, many people have blessed me with hospitality, some even going so far as to provide pavlova at ten pm!!!
    None of that is wrong per se, I just dont think its how Jesus himself lived – and that is my only assertion.

    “This could have been sold and given to the poor”. Indeed, he didn’t say “could have been used to meet our day to day running costs”, but it’s made pretty clear that he expected that the money would have gone into the communal purse where he could get at it.

    No, its made clear that is what the disciples thought would be a good thing, but they didnt even say ‘we could have sold that and given the money to the poor’ perhaps they were imagining something akin to the rich young man, who was advised to do exactly that with his wealth.

    It’s not about restriction of time, it’s about maturity, and what God really wants from us. I don’t believe that he wants us to rely on him directly for things that he has blessed us with the ability to get for ourselves except in specific and unusual circumstances.

    Fair enough, that’s an opinion – not shared by a lot of people, including me – but I am willing to admit that I occasionally, very rarely do get things wrong. I am sorely tempted to begin a rant about the importance of living in community, radical sharing, redistribution etc, but that’s for another post.

    I don’t even think God wants us to take only what we need either. If we each made do with only what we needed, there would be no parties, and I think it’s obvious from both the old and new testament that God is big into parties.

    I like a party too – but lets not forget that the parties Jesus recommended weren’t the sort that we all tend to throw – not many homeless or hungry people at my shindigs – to my shame.

    I’m in full agreement that too many people are locked into a vicious cycle of desire, stress, work and acquisition for purely selfish motives, but this is not the only story that you find, and indeed, a very large number of people I know work in charities and social organisations to make the world a better place, and while increasing my own comfort and freedom is one of my own motivations for working – perhaps more so than it should be, others include the responsibility to provide for those I love and meet, the desire to have a spare bed for visitors, spare icecream to feast them on when they visit, and the ability to provide support to individuals, causes and regions that need it. Not to mention, occasionally, at its best, the joy of doing well, work that God has fitted me for.

    None of this was never intended as a criticism of you, after all who am I to criticise anyone!? I just believe that Jesus lived a life that was poor and simple, he calls many of us to do the same, hospitality is a wonderful gift, one for which I have frequently had cause to be grateful, including to you! I have been, and continue to be both the giver and the receiver in these kinds of transactions, although in truth I have almost certainly reached the point of being a net beneficiary.

    I tend to agree with the Franciscans: roughly speaking – I am weak, wealth is not a good thing for me, I am better off without it.

  3. your hands could be injured in a freak bolt gun incident,

    I hope that isn’t a threat!

    4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5″Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

    John 12

    With regard to the parties, the ones Jesus talked as a parable when making a theological point were a little different to the many parties he happily accepted invitations to, which included parties with (wealthy) tax collectors, with religious leaders, and were often the kind of party where lower class people were not welcome. But I’m not just talking about Jesus, many of the regulations in the old testament were about the parties and festivals that were to be held.

  4. Good point on John 12, I always was rubbish at bible ping pong, perhaps I should read it some time 😉

    Glad we can agree to disagree on these things!!

    We’ve all got to be careful around those bolt guns – dangerous things 🙂

    Hopefully we’ll be having a party when we’ve moved, you will be most welcome!

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