Understandably, there’s been a lot of hullabaloo in media since Mother Jones revealed Mitt Romney calling 47% of us Americans mooches. In case you’ve missed it, here’s some of the transcript of what he said to the attendees of this $50,000-a-plate dinner:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax Watch the video here.
Romney’s comment should catch you off guard, it should sting. 47% is a lot of folks. It certainly includes me and my family, and there’s a good chance it’s you too. But it becomes even more ridiculous when you realize that more than 1/5 of the 47% are the elderly. Not to mention this also includes many others, such as those in college, those in the military, the lucky beneficiaries of the Bush-era tax cuts, the super-wealthy and more — find these and other statistics here.
I think this statement by Romney shows how his privilege has shaped his worldview. Anyone who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his or her hand and has ever needed help should be written off, disregarded, and should be undercut when it comes to policy. Romney’s theology is one in which God helps those who help themselves, one where privilege and wealth are sure signs of God’s favor.
This theology doesn’t line up with the Bible. Nowhere does the bible state that God helps those who help themselves. Instead, Scripture is chock-full of stories and teachings about how God continually sides with and cares for the poor. Exodus is a story about God’s work to end slavery and bring about liberation for the “Hebrew people,” which literally meant a group of marginal people who had no social standing, owned no land, and endlessly disrupted ordered society.
God’s concern for the 47%, or as I prefer the “99%,” doesn’t stop there. Otherwise that pesky Jesus might not have been so pesky after all. Consider the parable of the sheep and the 47%:
“All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you suggested I get a job, I was thirsty and you wrote me off, I was a stranger and you locked your doors when you saw me, I was naked and you saw through my victimhood, I was sick and you reminded me I shouldn’t feel entitled to my health, I was in prison and you and you built more secure prisons. You saw through my tricks, proved your keen insight, and remembered that God only helps those who help themselves’”
But as we know, this isn’t the way the parable actually goes. In fact, Jesus reserves his most damning words for those who turn away from those who are in need. In fact, it seems that
“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’ “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’ “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.” (MSG)
(The point of the sheep and the goats)[http://gatheringinlight.com/?p=4110] is not that the sheep didn’t know they were doing “works of mercy,” so much as they didn’t know who they were doing the works of mercy to. The surprise for Jesus’ audience, and for us today, comes in the fact that Jesus identifies as those who were in need of the works of mercy. What he is saying is that he was in fact that hungry person, he was in fact the person dying of thirst, the one called stranger and feared, or that person in jail with no outside support or love. I think the surprise for the sheep and the goats is in who Jesus has solidarity with.
I know that would be surprising to a number of our political leaders today, from both parties, as well as many of those we find in churches today.