While working out at the gym the other night, I happened to catch Jack Cafferty on the Situation Room. One of the questions he posed for his viewers dealt with whether or not it was fair to more heavily tax the wealthy to pay for health care for the poor. The respondent that most captured my attention was the one who commented that there was absolutely no moral or philosophical basis for expecting the wealthy to pay higher taxes than the poor. Given the way the theme of the obligations that attend wealth shows up in Scripture, I was puzzled at this respondent who, I had to conclude, must believe God is immoral.
From very early on in the Scriptural stories, the idea that those who are well-to-do have obligations to participate in caring for those less fortunate is clear. Consider the gleaning laws wherein farmers where enjoined to leave some produce in the field for the poor to gather. Similarly, the laws (notice, “laws” not suggestions) regarding Years of Release and Years of Jubilee required, in the first case, forgiveness of debts every seven years and, in the latter case, the return of the ancestral lands to their original owners. All of these laws imposed burdens on the well-to-do that effectively required them to undertake care of the poor with the resources of which they were stewards.
Once we move to the New Testament, we are told to keep in mind the rule that “to whom much is given, much is required.” That God is very serious about these obligations of the wealthy toward the poor is evident in numerous ways. First, the Pericope of the Great Judgment in Matthew 25 has Jesus rejecting those who did not engage in serving the “least of these.” Second, in Luke 12 we have the Parable of the Barns. In this case, a wealthy farmer has done so well with his crops that he, quite simply, plans to retire early. Rather than saying, “Wow, what a good farmer you are,” God says, “You fool, tonight your life will be required of you.” Why was he a fool? He saw his good fortune as something for himself rather than as an instrument of blessing to others. Third, in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we see a Rich Man who ends up in hell for no other obvious reason than that he had the wherewithal to help Lazarus—in fact, to help heal Lazarus of his ailments—but instead turned a blind eye. In each of these cases, God judges the ones who did not understand the obligations that go with much as the ones who were immoral. Of course, none of these passages directly reference the question of taxes, but they all are crystal clear in the obligations that attend wealth in all aspects of life—public and private.
So, Cafferty’s respondent thinks there is no moral reason for expecting the wealthy to bear a greater share of the costs of care for those of our society who are on the margins in one way or another? Well, as is evident from Scripture, God sees things differently, and when it comes to God or Caffertys’ respondent, I’ll go with God being the one more likely to get morality right!