Blind Bartimaeus

“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging…”-Mark 10:46-52

I recently rediscovered this story during the Easter weekend in the devotional book Eastern Orthodoxy: a Way of Life, by Anthony Coniaris.  After a first read, it seems like an ordinary healing story that is no different from any of the others mentioned in the gospels.  A person has a socially unacceptable condition.  Jesus sees his faith and heals the person because of it.  Said person praises God and follows after Jesus.  So while it is indeed miraculous, it doesn’t necessarily stand out as a unique story.

This begs the question: why include it?  Clearly Mark felt the story belonged in his narrative of Christ’s ministry and teachings, otherwise it would have never made it into his gospel.  Even John, who records only a handful of miracles in his gospel, declares there are not enough books in the world to cover all of the deeds of Christ.  So what is so special about this particular story that Mark felt this particular healing story had to be included?

Well let’s start from the beginning and see what we can find.  Mark sets the scene in Jericho, an ancient city known in Scripture as a barrier between Joshua and the Israelites from entering the Promised Land.  Joshua, at God’s command, had destroyed the entire city, but it was later rebuilt during the reign of Ahab because of its ideal location to guard against invading forces from crossing the Jordan River.  During the time of Christ, it was still a center for travelers coming from the East.  It was also where Jews would go if trying to reach Galilee or Judea without crossing into Samaria.

Why does this matter?  It helps to explain Bartimaeus’ situation.  Throughout the ancient Middle East, and the history of the world for that matter, blind people have often had to resort to begging and relying on the kindness of strangers.  If you were blind but lived in an area that doesn’t receive a lot of traffic or financially well of people, your chances of receiving alms were pretty low.  Since he was in Jericho, a place where people often travelled, he probably depended heavily on the Jewish pilgrims and various traders for both his coin and news of the world he could never hope to see.  This would have included the news of a Galilean miracle worker whom the people called Jesus of Nazareth.  Thus it is no surprise that blind Bartimaeus jumped at the chance to have his sight restored when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by to Jerusalem.

However this is something remarkable about his cry for help.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, this cry is considered the basis of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”  Saying this prayer is to remind and teach the believer that Jesus is not only Lord and Savior but also the Divine who alone is capable of granting help.  With this is in mind, Bartimaeus is clearly identifying Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, the “Son of David” of whom the prophets spoke.  Interestingly enough, the crowd describes Christ simply as Jesus of Nazareth.  This wasn’t an insulting title since many people were called by their first name and where they were from like Saul of Tarsus and Simon of Cyrene.  Yet it seems to suggest that the crowd itself was blind to Jesus’ true identity.  For them he was a miracle worker who will hopefully lead a military revolution against the Romans and reinstate the Jewish kingdom of Israel for all 12 tribes.  To give him a title like “Son of David” would be to give him a more spiritual mission and perhaps a divine nature.  Those were all well and good, but the crowd didn’t see this as important as political freedom.

This might explain why those around Bartimaeus told him to keep quiet.  They didn’t want a blind beggar putting his petty concerns before their king and general.  However, this explanation doesn’t fit within the larger context of the story.  For right after this Mark describes the triumphal entry into Jerusalem with Jesus riding on a donkey.  As many of you will remember from your Palm Sunday services, the donkey in ancient times was seen as a symbol of peace and not war.  Yet we don’t read about the crowd becoming confused or angry with this decision.  Instead they are jubilant!  So it is unlikely that they were upset with Bartimaeus’ interpretation of Jesus’ mission.  It is more likely that Jesus was preaching as he walked.  And with all the noise of a city and large crowd drowning out the Lord’s voice, the people near Bartimaeus probably didn’t want to hear the whining of a beggar as well.

Which is what makes Christ’s first response appear so abrupt.  He stopped, or in some translations “stood still.”  Like the calm within the eye of a hurricane, Jesus ceases to be actively involved with crowd in order to place his attention upon one man who had probably interrupted his last minute teaching before Holy Week and his crucifixion.  It creates the mental image we all have whenever we think about praying about something.  The God of universe is busy making sure everything runs smoothly and we’re just pesky little children who are asking too much of his precious time.  Yet that is exactly what happens.  But instead of seeing us as annoying brats, he treats us as something special that requires his attention.

So when Jesus calls for him, the crowd that had been shushing Bartimaeus now encourages him to go forward.  Clearly the master had something special to say or do for this blind man.  And Bartimaeus recognizes this as well as he leaps to his feet and throws off his “garment”, that is a cloak.  Some have seen this as a symbolic act of repentance from one who truly wanted to be restored by God.  And I agree.  In life there are many things which hamper us to see things fully.  Perhaps it is our anger, lust, or greed.  Maybe we let our work or life goals get in the way which in turn causes them to become idols in our lives.  Stumbling blocks that need to be removed first before true reform can occur.  Just as the city of Jericho itself was an obstacle for the Joshua and the Israelites from enjoying the Promise Land, this garment of Bartimaeus must be removed from our lives so that we may more fully experience who God is.

The rest is, as they say, history.  Bartimaeus asks for his sight to be returned and Jesus honors his request.  Bartimaeus is then able to see and joins Christ as our Lord made his final steps to Jerusalem before his death and resurrection.  He’s never mentioned again, though one could assume that was a member of the Early Church since his name was remembered.  Then again his name is better translated as “son of Timaeus,” so it may be that his father was more prominent than the son was.  Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the story of blind Bartimaeus holds a special place within the Christian faith and the gospel of Mark.  His life is reminiscent to our one.  For we too were once blind, holding on to rags, until Christ and the gospel were presented to us.  It should be taken as a comfort that no matter how deep we are in sin, God will and does give us his complete attention to provide our necessary restoration.

McCutcheon v. FEC

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court struck down the federal regulations which dictated how much money individuals and organizations can contribute for political purposes.  Many are seeing this as an attack on democracy, corruption of free speech, and nullifying the Constitution.  The problem with these arguments though is that they are based on a subjective definition of fairness, not actual law or fact.

First, the democracy argument is very faulty.  If you remember the post “Responsibility of the Voters,” my main point was that we the people elect the people in office.  And that is how it works.  You show to the polls, cast your vote, and then stay up to hear or wait for the following morning’s paper to see if your candidate garnered enough votes to win.  That is how democracy works, unless you believe campaign funds equal votes.  Which is exactly what opponents of McCutcheon v. FEC would have you believe.  I guess their main argument is that if large companies, organizations, and wealthy individuals like Wal-Mart, the Koch brothers, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) can “buy” candidates, then they control the political field rather than the people.  However, dollars do not equal votes and the person with the most money in the war chest doesn’t always win.  A recent example of this is David Jolly of Florida who beat his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, who had raised three times more money than he did.  No doubt her money helped to get her name and face in the minds of voters, but apparently money isn’t all that matters when voters go to the polls.  Democratic elections ultimately depend on whatever the voters want.  If they like what someone is selling, they’ll vote for that candidate.  If they don’t, they won’t.  It is as simple as that.

The argument from the freedom of speech is a little tricky.  The first 10 Amendments of the Constitution are generally accepted to be applicable to all individual citizens, the 2nd being the hotly contested exception.  Thus the freedom of speech should be applicable only to individuals and not multi-million or billion dollar enterprises, right?  However if we follow this line of reasoning, then our news media can legally have their speech regulated and censored by the government.  One might argue that newspapers, news channels, and blogs from journalists are protected by the freedom of the press, but what does that actually mean if freedom of speech was already granted?  Could it be that the Founding Fathers understood the difference between free speech for individuals and institutions?

I suppose part of the problem is that the SC has maintained its interpretation that businesses can be seen as individuals and are therefore entitled to the same rights.  Obviously the logic used to get to that interpretation is hard to follow.  How can both Jim who works at McDonald’s and the McDonald’s franchise be individuals?  I think a better argument would be to treat businesses like interest groups since both wish to convince candidates and politicians to support their interests.  The difference being the business will be looking out for solely its interests and maybe that of its employees and clientele while think tanks and lobbyists fight for the interests of the public in general.

And finally let’s look at the constitutional argument.  There is none.  Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the usage of large amounts of money in campaigns.  Someone, who ignores everything I pointed out above, would say that such contributions would allow the rich to essentially control the government.  After all, the Preamble begins with “We the People” and not “We the Financial Privileged Few.”  Even an article in the Sunday Forum of the Courier Journal uses a quote from James Madison saying, “Ours was a government…’not for the rich more than the poor.'”  Unfortunately these very stirring and patriotic sentiments carry one fatal flaw in their reasoning.  The Constitution at the time of Madison and the Framers only let the privileged few to vote.  Don’t own property?  Sorry, but no votes for you.  Not European with pale skin?  Sorry, no votes for you.  Are you a woman?  Definitely no votes for you.  The fact that we have now overcome those barriers and broadened the electoral landscape is something to be admired considering it was done by the 1%.  It’s also confusing that the 99% are so afraid that the votes of the 1% will count more than theirs.  Perhaps the critics of McCutcheon v. FEC need someone to teach them democracy and basic mathematics.

Now I will agree that the amount of money spent on campaigns is obscene.  As a nation we struggle to cough up a few dollars to purchase blankets for the homeless, toys for Angel Trees, or groceries for food pantries, yet when campaign season starts everyone is willing to open their wallets and purses.  Oh well, I guess this shouldn’t be surprising when we are willing to spend $41.4 million dollars to see Capt. America fight Hydra or pay athletes millions to play a game.  Maybe instead of worrying about the rich taking over the government, we should be more concerned with what we do with our own money.

The Truth About Easter

Easter is one of the biggest holidays in the Christian religion, along with Christmas and Good Friday.  However it is also has many myths and misconceptions surrounding it.  Some are honest mistakes and others are straight out lies.  So today, I’m going go clear up a of few of these falsehoods surrounding Easter.

1) The concept of the ‘resurrection’ was a later belief added to the Christian faith.
If you remember the controversy surrounding The Da Vinci Code, part of the premise of the story was that much of the Christian faith was removed or added over time.  So much editing had occurred that there was very little evidence pointing to it except for a small circle of true believers who knew better and the hierarchy in the Vatican who didn’t want people to know the truth.  One date when much of this editing occurred is 325 AD, during the Council of Nicaea, which is when most skeptics believe the Bible was compiled and most of the major tenets of Christianity were added.  The problem with this is that the resurrection was very much a part of the religious creed for the 1st century Church.  Cornelius Tacitus, one of the best Roman historians of the 1st century, mentions in the 15th book of his Annals a “mischievous superstition” was held by “a class hated for abominations, called Christians.”  What could have this superstition been?  Jesus proclaiming to be God?  Well the emperors and several characters in Greco-Roman myths already did that, so nothing there that’s too outrageous.  That he did miracles?  The ancient world was full of miracle workers and performers of various wonders.  Jesus shouldn’t have even made it on the radar if that was the reason.  Could it be his resurrection?  That seems to be the only one that fits.  Tacitus was known for being skeptical of resurrection tales and the fact that people in a new religion with a deity that had died and rose again would have caught his attention particularly since Nero used them as a scapegoat.  Josephus, a contemporary Jewish historian, also mentions the resurrection as well.  “On the third day he appeared to them restored to life…”  Some have argued that this text has been tampered with, but it should be noted the Arabic version of the text also includes it but is over all less biased in tone.  Therefore we can be assured that Josephus did faithfully record the Christian belief of Christ’s resurrection.  Whether he believed it or not is up for debate.  And finally we have I Corinthian 15:1-11.  Often described as the first creed to be used by the Church, it adamantly recounts the death and resurrection of Christ.  Considering this epistle would have been written in the 40s or 50s AD, it is quite clear that the early Church believed in the resurrection since the beginning.

2) The gospels and the epistles were describing a spiritual or metaphorical resurrection, not a bodily one.
This is an approach typically taken by more liberal theologians and biblical scholars who feel that the Bible consists of mostly good ideas that are to enlighten our moral and social lives.  Anything else should be taken as mythos and left at that.  While it is true that the Bible contains insight about moral and social dilemmas, that doesn’t mean parts of it can’t be taken literally.  In fact most of it should be taken literally, especially when it concerns the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  So let’s first look over the burial and empty tomb scenes in the gospels.  Matthew describes Christ giving up his spirit, Joseph of Arimathea takes the body to be buried, and in chapter 28 the women find the tomb empty.  Mark has the same thing.  Christ breathes his last, Joseph takes the body, and the women find the tomb empty.  Both Luke and John offer the same accounts as well.  In all four cases, the texts do not imply that they should be taken figuratively.  A tomb that once held a body but is now empty can only suggest a physical resurrection.  Of course someone might say that all of these images are symbolic in nature and literature that uses symbols doesn’t have to declare what they are (see Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451).  That is true, however, why mention the stone being rolled away?  Metaphors don’t have to make complete sense so long as the point of it was conveyed.  And spiritual resurrections shouldn’t be constrained by physical obstacles.  Plus the gospel of Luke has Christ saying he isn’t a ghost and ate food in front of the disciples!  And John records Thomas, who doubted the physical resurrection, touching the wounds of the risen Lord!  As for the rest of the New Testament, Peter declares a physical resurrection in his sermon at Pentecost and Paul tells the Corinthians the need for a physical resurrection for the Christian faith to be valid.  So the Bible does teach a physical resurrection.

3) The Christians copied the resurrection story from other religions.
You are most likely to see this one on online forums and discussion boards where militant atheists are talking without thinking.  Typically this accusation will come with an example like Osiris or Mithras.  The problem with these myths is that their stories, while sounding similar, are very different when closely examined.  First, let’s look at Osiris.  Osiris was the king in Egypt during the days when the gods themselves ruled the land.  His brother Suetekh was jealous and murdered and scattered his brother’s body across the face of the earth.  Isis, Osiris’ wife, manages to find all but one of his pieces and putting them together regenerates him back to life.  Sounds similar right?  Not really.  First, Osiris didn’t die for anyone and Jesus’ body wasn’t cut up and scattered around the world.  Second and more importantly, Jesus came back to life among the land of the living and is always associated with life and not the dead.  Osiris, after his regeneration, was associated with death and was even made the ruler of the after life.  Thus he wasn’t resurrected, but rather “zombified.”  Another god used to compare Christ with is Mithras.  Mithras was an eastern god worshipped by the Romans and had a cult following among soldiers because he was supposed to be a god of war and warriors.  He was supposedly born of a virgin on December 25th and died for the sins of the world.  But this statement shows more of one’s ignorance concerning the mythos of Mithras than anything else.  Dec. 25th was the birthday of Sol Invictus, the “Unconquerable Sun,” with whom Mithras was often associated with and mistaken for.  However, Mithras wasn’t born of a virgin but a rock.  And we have no recorded Mithraic scripture that says he ever died.  Rather we do know that he killed bulls, but we don’t know why.  At least with the Osiris myth, the god actually did die.  Mithras is just a pale and pitiable caricature of what people want to believe about Christianity.  There are other gods, like Bacchus and Baal, that are often used as well.  But you can bet that after a brief look at these stories, you’ll find that the gods actually didn’t die or that they were used to explain the seasons and the renewal of the vegetation on earth.  None ever actually come close to imitating the actual story of the risen Lord.

4) Christ didn’t die on the cross thus his appearance to the disciples wasn’t that miraculous.  Or they were looking at the wrong tomb.
This one covers a lot of theories to explain how Christ could have appeared to his disciples after his crucifixion without ever having to die and thus come back from the dead.  The problem is that there is no evidence to support any of them.  Take the “Swoon Theory.”  It says that Christ didn’t die on the cross, but fainted.  He was later revived and walked around appearing to people.  This ignores the facts surrounding Christ’s death.  If you read the gospels you’ll find that he was first beaten and flogged.  The beating would result in major bruises as well as a broken nose.  The flogging, performed by Roman soldiers, would have shredded and ripped his skin off causing him to lose large quantities of blood and bodily fluids.  Then he was nailed to the cross with nine inch iron nails into his hands and feet in order to make breathing nearly impossible and very painful.  And after he had died, a soldier stabs his side and finds that the blood and water in Christ had separated which is a clear sign of death.  However the “Swoon Theory” would have us believe that Jesus survived all of that, was buried, given no medical attention whatsoever, unwrapped his burial clothes, rolled back a massive stone with his nail pierced hands, walked out on his nail pierced feet, and starting hanging out with his friends again.  I’m sorry, but I fail to see how this is anymore logical and believable than Christ simply rising from the grave.  To be fair though, this theory doesn’t have a lot of followers because of its flaws.  Another theory suggests that it wasn’t Jesus on the cross but somebody else.  This is popular among online Muslim apologists who sometimes suggest it was Judas Iscariot who was crucified.  First, Judas had already hung himself so how did he get on the cross?  Second, even if the disciples were too far away to see who was crucified or the body so mangled by the flogging that the person was beyond recognition, when did the exchange occur?  The only accounts of the betrayal on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are in the gospels which say Jesus was constantly under guard by his enemies.  The Jews had already identified him during the meeting at the Sanhedrin, at Pilate’s court, and before Herod.  At each point, they never indicate that they were unsure that this was the person they wanted dead.  For this theory to work, you have to have an unfounded bias that the gospels aren’t telling us the whole story.  Which leaves us with the wrong tomb theory.  Here the women and the disciples of Christ went to the wrong tomb which was empty and they said that Jesus had arisen from the dead.  But this begs several questions.  Why didn’t the Jewish leaders go to the right tomb and show the body?  Were the guards mentioned Matthew at the wrong tomb?  Why were there used and empty burial garments at the wrong tomb?  How could the women have gone to the wrong tomb when they followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb?  Why didn’t Joseph point out the right tomb?  How could all of the disciples have been wrong?  It simply doesn’t add up.

5) Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny are Christian traditions for Easter.
Let me be clear, I have nothing against the Easter Bunny or Easter Egg hunts.  I enjoyed them as a kid, and want all children to have the same experience.  The problem I have is when Christians get bent out of shape when its time for Halloween and they don’t want their kids to participate in something pagan.  Never mind their Christmas trees, holly, Easter Eggs, and Easter Bunnies.  The Easter Bunny is the symbol of the goddess Eostra, from which we get the name Easter, who was the deity of spring and fertility.  The eggs were also symbols of fertility.  Combine these two symbols with the minds of Western civilization’s entrepreneurs and you have…MERCHANDISING!!!  Just like St. Nicholas has become the commercialized Santa Claus, these items were transformed for stores to make money for an upcoming holiday.  Greedy?  Possibly.  Fun for kids and family?  Definitely.  Christian in origin?  Absolutely not!  I’m not saying we should get rid of the Easter Bunny and forbid our children from looking for colored eggs, but I think as believers we need to be more honest with ourselves.  If we can’t celebrate Halloween for its pagan roots, can we celebrate Christmas or Easter?

I hope you enjoyed this post.  It was longer than what I usually write, but I think what I had to say was important.  There are plenty of great sources that can better explain the historical evidence for the resurrection and Christianity than what I have here, so please check it out.  But I also hope it has instilled in you a desire to reread the passages describing Christ’s death and resurrection and reflect on what it means for your faith.

Happy Easter!

Poverty Gospel

Most of us are familiar with the “wealth and prosperity gospel” that’s popular among TV-evangelists.  “Give to my ministry, and God will pay you back tenfold.”  “All you have to do is trust in God, and you’ll never have to worry about your financial problems again.”  And the promises go on and on.  Of course the problem with this message is that it assumes faith equals material gain.  Often proponents of this message will refer to the blessings of Abraham and how God restored Job’s riches as biblical proofs for their reasoning.  Yet this overlooks the fact that the blessings God gave to Abraham were specific to Abraham alone, not to believers in general.  And Job’s case was also unique to Job.  Not everyone who goes through trials and tribulations will be restored afterward.  Naturally this form of evangelism is facing much needed criticism from the Church and, I say this with confidence, it has failed to be a major influence in the Church.  However I fear the reaction to it has allowed its extreme opposite to take root.

This is what I call the “poverty gospel.”  Like its counterpart, it is very concerned about the relationship between a believer and a believer’s possession.  More specifically, it wants to eliminate it.  Instead of Abraham and Job, you hear about the prison stories of Paul and how the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.  Instead of faith being the gateway to get rich quick, it is now a means to get rid of all material goods and possessions.  And like the wealth gospel, this form of evangelism is very attractive but has some major problems.

First, it is politically motivated.  If you’ve been living in a hole the past few years, let me enlighten you to the fact that fiscal inequality has become the new hot button issue in the country.  It used to be abortion, immigration, and gay marriage.  Now its the evil haves who followed the “American Dream” are exploiting the have-nots and someone, namely the government, should do something about this.  If you belong in the haves group, then you are clearly on the wrong side because your material gains are from oppressing the down trodden who clearly have God on their side.  Don’t believe it?  Look up Ps. 147:6 and Ps. 10:17-18.

But the gospel, indeed the entire Christian religion, isn’t politically based or motivated.  Yes, the Law sets up a theocratic society and later God instituted a monarchy in Israel.  However, isn’t it interesting that we never read about political intrigue and power struggles during the time of the Judges and the kings?  Sure we read about revolts and assassinations, but that’s typically to explain why we’re no longer reading about a particular ruler.  The same goes for the New Testament.  We’re told to uphold civil laws and respect those in places of authority (Romans 13:1-7), but we’re never told which system of government is preferable by God.  We don’t know if Jesus would have registered himself as a Democrat, Republican, or Independent.  We can have huge debates about this based on certain verses, but ultimately we’ll never be able to come up with answer.  Why?  Because the purpose of the Christian religion is to help individuals overcome their sin and the corruption sin has in our lives.  It isn’t interested in political ideologies and trying to solve the problems of big or small government.  It is, however, focused on helping individuals and their relationship with God.

Second, this gospel has picked up support from the social justice crowd.  It is socially unjust for some to have more than others because this is an inequality of wealth.  The only way to solve it is to redistribute the wealth so that everyone is equally wealthy.  This will not only help a person to be socially just, but make them right with God for “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”-Matt. 19:24.  And in accordance with the early Church, shouldn’t we also “have everything in common” (Acts 2:44-45)?

Yet like the TV-evangelists, those who push the poverty gospel are taking many of their verses out of context.  First the verses in the Old Testament, particularly those from the prophets, are describing a situation similar modern day slavery.  If you look at Amos 2:6-8, you’ll find that the Israelites were selling the needy among them in order to make a quick buck or get a new pair of shoes the same way today’s kidnappers and slavers sell the world’s poor to sweat shops.  It even references fathers and sons alike sleeping with the same woman which is not unlike today’s porn sites.  Second, the verse in Matthew is referring to a matter of the heart that cannot be determined based on how much someone has.  The young rich man in the story was doing everything that was expected of being a good Jew, and according to the gospel of Mark Jesus loved him for it.  So he was already looked on with favor by Christ, but he had one problem.  He made material gain an idol which yes is common for most people who have lots of stuff.  However, just because someone has stuff doesn’t mean it is an idol to them.  Plus the story was meant to teach the people that wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing or one’s salvation which was the common belief at the time.  As for the Church in Acts, many new believers were poor because now someone was giving them the time of day.  And it is a Christian’s duty to give alms, but not to share property like communists.  Thus early Church was giving, selling, and holding their possessions in common the same way a family may give housing to a neighbor whose house has burned down or when someone provides food to the sick or offers to chauffer someone who doesn’t have a car.

And finally this poverty gospel has the same major flaw that the wealth gospel has: it is too focused on material things.  The only difference is that instead of trying to get more stuff, its trying to get believers to be deprived of stuff.  I’m sorry but anyone whose preaching is terribly concerned about what someone has or doesn’t have is not preaching the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about possessions but the condition of one’s soul.  Is the person saved and is he or she acting like one who has been saved?  That is the ultimate goal of the gospel.  Riches and poverty do come into it, but they are not the primary parts of it.  This is why Christ never talked about economics.  This is why Christ didn’t get involved with the politics of his time.  These things would have gotten in the way of his ministry and true purpose for coming to earth as a man.  Should we be careful to guard our hearts against avarice and selfishness?  Yes!  Should we be considerate of and caring for those less fortunate?  Yes!  Should we make our standing with God based on our socio-economic class?  No!  God loves the rich and the poor equally for both were made in his image and he died for both.

What Is a Living Wage?

As part of the minimum wage debate, people have been complaining about the lack of a living wage for low income workers.  “I’m a single/married with kids and I’m having a hard time making ends meet” is the mantra for those demanding a higher paycheck.  And no doubt there are single and married people who are doing everything in their power to get by each day.  However as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, they are not the majority of those making the minimum wage.  Yet the concept of a living wage intrigues me, so today I want to discuss what exactly that is supposed to look like.

First, let’s understand that there is a formula the government uses to identify the cost of living known as COLA (cost of living adjustment).  COLAs were designed to benefit recipients of Social Security who used to wait for Congressional approval to make their checks rise with inflation.  Now SS checks are automatically increased by a specific formula based on current wages and prices for certain goods via the consumer price index (CPI-W).  The CPI-W is calculated each month based on the prices of certain goods and services like breakfast cereals, wine, rent, water bill, etc.  Then the government takes the CPI-W of the current third quarter of the year and compares it to the last time a COLA was in effect.  The equation would look something like this:

(A – B) / B * 100 = i

A = Average CPI-W for 3rd quarter of current year
B = Average CPI-W for 3rd quarter of the last year in which the COLA was effective (which may or may not have been the previous year)
i = Cost of Living Adjustment, in percent

According to the Social Security website, the current COLA is approximately 1.5% meaning SS recipients should be getting 1.5% increase in their checks in order to keep up with rising inflation.

The problem I have with this formula is it only produces a number based on the data given to it.  The COLA can’t tell us why prices for certain goods are going up or why incomes are increasing.  Thus it is impossible to know whether or not the cost of living is an accurate indicator for a livable wage.  Think about it.  Is the rent in New York too high because the wages in the city are high?  Or is it because the rent is too high that wages have to go up as well?  Or maybe there was a temporary wealth surplus that landowners wanted to take advantage of and thus artificially created this race between rent and income?  And what if rent go up one month, but down the next?  Should landowners charge on a monthly basis?  If so, how can they or their tenants properly plan their budgets for the future?  There are simply too many factors that this equation cannot account for.  Plus this COLA is used to help adjust benefits for the elderly, not to be a guideline for every American who can’t expect a nice government check to come in the mail each month.

And that’s the problem with trying to calculate a living wage: there are too many variables.  You might be able to create an equation that will tell you what it would take to live on the bare necessities last year and maybe this week.  But it won’t be able to tell you what you need for next year or whether certain conditions will be met to prevent the equation from becoming obsolete.  It would be like the government setting up health boards that decided what kind of coverage everyone needs in their health insurance plan…hmm…

So if a living wage is so fluid a concept, then why is there such a big push for it?  Well as mentioned above, the mantra for its supporters does describe real scenarios.  There are single parents who are working multiple jobs for low wages and having a difficult time paying bills and putting food on the table.  A living wage, if one were to exist, would help these workers get by.  However the only certainty accompanying higher wages is the possibility of being laid off and replaced with foreign labor or machines.  Employers and business owners have no qualms paying their workers until wages cut into profits.  Then they begin to look for ways to cut their losses.  Unfortunately I fear the low wage earners don’t understand this.  And the more educated proponents aren’t telling them this because they feel wealth distribution is socially just, never mind the fact the people they’re trying to help end up losing jobs.  That is what is truly disturbing about this whole situation.

For more information about the COLA formula, try the following link.