Well . . . He wasn’t a socialist. He was not even a political liberal. He was apolitical saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus was raised as a conservative, orthodox Jew. He went to the synagogue and the Temple on the appointed days, He kept kosher and the holy days, and He attended to His temple obligations. He despised the corruption He saw in the temple, though, and once raised a ruckus, infuriating the temple authorities, no doubt, which earned Him a bad name with the establishment.
Except for one single thing, everything He did for people was done for those who came within His reach. Everything He did for people was done with His own resources, which were limited since He owned nothing, but what He had He gave of freely. The multitude He miraculously fed was fed with fishes and loaves which He asked for and were freely given to Him . . . He didn’t forcefully take or demand them from anyone.
Everything He did for others was done for them, personally. He did nothing that was done for the the masses in general except for the single thing referred to earlier. Even the multitude He fed were those who were within His hearing distance.
The idea that if He were here today, He would be a Socialist is an invention. It is far more of an invention than the single thing He did for all of humanity, which was to offer His life as a sacrifice so that humanity at large, and humans, personally, could be reconciled to God. This single thing, this greatest of all things, is the thing rejected by most of humanity in favor of a social gospel that originated somewhere other than with Jesus. That humanity rejects this is not surprising to Him, because He said that this cornerstone of His building would be the one rejected by those who had every reason to receive it first.
People like to refer to the story of the woman taken in adultery as proof of Jesus’ liberality. When her accusers brought her before Him, citing the law, it is recorded that He silently made some marks in the sand. We don’t know what He wrote or drew, but we do know that immediately after doing this, the woman’s accusers all disappeared. Perhaps He wrote the names of the accusing men who had also slept with the accused woman and in an embarrassment of guilt they left rather than continue their accusation. He then asked her, “Woman, where are your accusers?” Since there was no one to accuse her, there was no case for the prosecution of the crime. “Go and sin no more,” He said. I suspect that if a single accuser had remained, the story would have ended quite differently. Jesus, Himself, was not willing to throw stones, but had her accusers remained, would He have prevented what was then a legal execution? We don’t have the answer to that question, but we do have the precedent that He always kept the law as He honestly interpreted it.
People also like to refer to the story of the rich man who wanted to become a disciple. It is recorded that a certain, important young man asked Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life. Jesus told him, in paraphrase, “You know the law.”
The important young man said, “I have kept the law since I was a child.”
“Yet, you still lack,” replied Jesus. “Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come and follow me.” It was a remarkable invitation. It is recorded that the important young man went away sad because he was very wealthy and could not bring himself to part with his wealth.
Jesus then said that it was easier for a camel to come through the door of a hut than it was for a rich man to get to heaven. He disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus answered, “What is impossible for man is possible for God.”
This was not an indictment of money. This was an indictment of the important young man’s ideas of his own power and wealth . . . of his idea that he would be able to merit some special treatment from God, or access to God, because of his life-long obedience to the law . . . but his reliance was in his own abilities; he did not understand that his reliance should be on God. The important young man also wanted more than his own personal salvation. He wanted to be counted among the number of Jesus’ hand-picked disciples . . . perhaps he thought he could buy his way in. It was this idea Jesus was rejecting. The important young man’s sadness is recorded. We can’t be certain whether his sadness was because of his learning that his money would not buy him influence, or because he felt that he would be eternally damned. I suspect the former far more than the latter. You must decide for yourself.
Jesus never forcefully took from one person to give to another. Jesus never advocated for the government to do so either. Jesus never even advocated the abolition of slavery. Jesus said that we are to render to the government what belongs to the government. When arrested and accused by the government, Jesus did not even try to defend himself . . . He never advocated for political rights or freedoms, not even His own.
Was Jesus a social radical? Nope!! He was an individual radical. His personal charity was not socialism, but a personal love for all humanity, as manifested by how He treated all those who came within His reach.
Did He leave us an example to follow? Certainly! But it was not governmental socialism and wealth redistribution He advocated: not even close to that; it was not government at all, but personal. He did say that we are to love God and to treat everyone as we would wish to be treated. This extends as far as our reach. This is apolitical. This is our duty to ourselves and God. This is a very personal responsibility His example requires from us.
To use Him as an example of governmental socialistic wealth-redistribution is a perversion of the scriptures. Conversely, so my fellow conservatives won’t have any reason for a self-satisfied smugness while reading this: to hold Him up as a conservative right-wing theocrat is also a perversion of the scriptures. Jesus was never smug about anything. His example is one of our personal responsibility to help the helpless, the poor, the needy, and the down-trodden who come within our reach, including the despised Samaritan. This example contains no hint of earthly governmental responsibility. So where did that idea come from?
Your guess is as good as mine, perhaps, but most likely you won’t like mine, since I think that any idea that shifts our responsibility from personal to governmental has the wrong author.