Would parity in income have positive consequences?
"Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." Acts 4: 32-35.
Hard words. These are Bible texts we don’t like to hear in a country where private wealth and private property are sacred. Yet the idea that "there was not a needy person among them" and "it was distributed to each as any had need" is attractive and sounds ideal.
The church in Acts was serious about this way of life. Witness the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the next chapter.
Evidence suggests the early church followed this approach for a few hundred years. Writing in about 200 CE, Tertullian of Carthage, an early church father, said that Christians created an alternative social order that embraced people of every status. He stated: "We do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another." They did so despite great persecution.
Jesus in his ministry was also hard on the wealthy. In Mark 10: 21,22 Jesus tells a rich man to "sell what you own, and give the money to the poor … then come follow me." The rich man was "shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions."
And in Luke 16:19-31, he tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. These stories are still difficult for us to hear.
Some years ago a friend told of her visit to her family who were living in Tanzania. While there, water restrictions were in place.
One day a woman came to the door of their host’s home and asked for some water. My friend cringed and felt afraid to share the little water they had as it was barely enough for their own needs. However, the host gave the woman at the door some water. She observed that sharing among the poor in that culture was the rule.
Recent research suggests that this idea of parity in income may have positive practical consequences. In a book published in 2009 in England and 2010 in the United States — "The Spirit Level, Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger" by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett — British authors and health researchers Wilkinson and Pickett compare nations which have a wide disparity in income between rich and poor.
Those with less disparity of income are better in almost every measure of health and well-being: life expectancy; incidence of diabetes, cancer, heart and other diseases; teen age pregnancy; infant mortality; violent crime; incarceration rates and more.
The United States currently ranks 25th in the world in infant mortality, 17th in life expectancy, 49th in literacy, with roughly 15 percent of our children living in poverty.
Are Jesus' teachings about wealth and the early church assimilation of that teaching still valid instruction for us today? Is Jesus still calling us to follow him by creating a culture in which the needs of all are met by a more equal sharing of resources? These hard words of Jesus are indeed food for thought.