Now that we don't have something as easily identifiable as The Holy Roman Empire to think of when we think of "Empire," Brueggemann and others would have us look at the "military-industrial complex" or "Western consumerism" as the Empires against which Jesus would have us rebel. Brueggemann's thesis, along with Colbert's rants, have got me thinking: Was Jesus a socialist? Was he interested in creating a socialist world?
Consider this classic description of the early church, shortly after Jesus' ministry on earth:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2: 42-47)
Sounds like socialism, right? The believers "had everything in common," and "gave to anyone as he had need." I asked Dr. Brueggemann at the conference if this "Christianity as anti-Empire" message posited a Jesus who was a politically dissident leader, and if so, did that have any effect on the definition of "the Gospel." He saw through me instantly, and knew I was asking about the Atonement. He told me, and the assembly, that the Gospel is Jesus' announcement that there's a new government in town: no longer the "Evil Empire" but a Christ-led government which cares for the poor, meek, and downtrodden rather than rewards the obedient consumer.
All well and good, you might think. But isn't it a gross overestimation of human nature? Why is it that socialist governments in the actual world always turn into socialist...dictatorships? Well, it seems to me that once people get into a place where they have enough power to put a socialist agenda into place, they start to think to themselves, "Well, I'll keep a few extra things for myself. I deserve it!" A typical home is pictured to the left! You can see the slippery slope from there.
So, in the end, I'll claim Jesus as a theoretical socialist. I'm a socialist too, if not for my view of human nature, which keeps my support of socialism to the theoretical level, and not the practical one.